Article (May-2018)


Workers are educated and understand business scenario

Vijay Deshpande

Designation : -   Advisor - Human Resources

Organization : -  JK Tyre Global Operations, Delhi


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How do you see and define new age labour relations? How it differs from old age industrial relations dynamics, thought process and action approach?
VD The dynamics has substantially changed over the years. In that, in earlier days workers could easily be led to believe whatever the leadership would say, the leadership could easily get masses behave the way it decided. In the days we were talking of labour participation in management, the dilemma was labour had hardly any participation in union and managers had hardly any participation in management. There is a subtle change for sure. Today, a worker can ask a union leader why there is a call for agitation and why not try to settle issues by discussion across the table. The workers are educated not only in the sense of better skills but much better understanding of business scenario. They understand the implications of business going global and consequences of competition at global level. Workers also understand, to a great extent, the business language. They may not exactly decipher the business indicators such as EBIDTA, ROI, PBT, PAT and such like, but they can't be taken for granted. Besides this enhanced level of understanding on part of workers, the unions take assistance of qualified CAs and industrial engineers and challenge managements' submissions in matters of challenges to business, compulsions of competition etc. Added to that is the changes in demography. Unlike olden days, workers children now go to engineering and business schools and take senior managerial positions in industry. As such, the gap in the so called working class and managerial class has substantially reduced. Today, worker thinks through before jumping in to any call for direct action. I must also add, the most unions also have also have understood the implications of business crossing national boundaries and the need for sustainability. As a result, there is considerable drop in loss of mandays on account of labour disputes.
Do you think that Trade unions are slowly becoming irrelevant in this age of knowledge and digital economy, and if so, and what corrections they should make in their approach and perspective to stay relevant?
VD I won't say trade unions are becoming irrelevant. They are there and will continue to be there. But their approaches to dispute redressal have changed. Interestingly, in the sectors which were union - free, we are seeing some trends of unionization. In the software industry for several years employees enjoyed benefits of much better compensation, flexible working hours, excellent working conditions and superior fringe benefits. Now as the industry is under severe recession and employees are facing prospects of job losses, the employees are getting unionized. This is more likely to be a temporary phase.
Is Labour Day representing origin of collectivism losing its shine and if yes, why?
VD Collectivism is natural human tendency. This comes out of need for safety and security. As such, collectivism will not evaporate. Its shine in context of labour may get dulled but collectivism can take other forms such as what we witnessed - caste based large scale agitations in different parts of India for issues like reservation, quota etc. Collectivism is here to stay - reasons driving that may change from time to time.
In manufacturing sector, will robotics going to impact blue collar jobs negatively and if yes, what Proactive steps HR  should take in advance to maintain a fine balance in job opportunities and technology advancements?
VD Robotics have become fairly common in automobile industry. They have also come in automotive components industry. But at least for next 10 years, I don't foresee robots taking over blue collared jobs in Industry in India. Progressively, there will be more and more automation in industry. That will change the profile of workers. Now most of the manufacturing companies in automobiles and auto components are going for diploma engineers. Chemical manufacturing organizations are preferring science graduates. As industries progressively go for automation and robotics, there will be better skilled and more educated workers. As it is, there is a perceptible gap of skills required in industry on one hand and large masses of unemployed people lacking industry specific skills. HR has this huge challenge of working out fine balance of skilled people vis-à-vis large numbers available.
How do you evaluate the objectivity and impact of labour reforms undertaken by Govt. on labour relations?
VD I think these are right measures being undertaken by some state and central Government. However, the way vote banks based democracy works in our country, success of these measures is a big question.
How dignity of job and respect for labour is enhanced in the industry?
VD I think a job in industry has earned its due dignity in our society. And, there is no question of respect for labour - it has its respect for sure. Unions and managements have worked out excellent wage revisions in almost all industries. In non-organized sectors, governments have successively enhanced minimum wages in all industries. Apart from enhancing minimum wages, Governments have been enhancing wage limits for PF, Bonus etc. As a result, wage levels have certainly improved across India. And, that has enhanced the dignity of labour.
How do you evaluate the emerging scenario of labour management relationship in India?
VD Besides India, I have experience of managing labour in some other countries also. We keep talking of outdated labour laws in India. But in some countries, I have experienced far more restrictive labour laws and labour practices. We had to do a massive business restructuring in Mexico where we experienced far stronger unions and bigger intervention of Government. However, with meticulous planning and sustained efforts, we have been successful in achieving our objective. I see labour management scenario in India quite healthy and harmonious barring some stray unfortunate incidents on Industrial Relations front in some states.
What qualities would you expect to see in modern HR managers that embrace ER skills and any message from you to the younger HR generation?
VD HR has to be business centric and not only process oriented. HR has to work as business manager. Most businesses agree that the future of work will be rooted in technology, from cloud - based software to AI, Machine Learning and such like. But technology on its own isn't enough. People, not just technology, will define the future of work. The world is more open, connected and moves faster than we have ever known. As a new generation enters the workforce, it will have a different expectation of work and work life balance. HR will have to continuously upgrade itself to meet these challenges. These new challenges can't be met with older ways of managing.