Supervisors, workers can together foster industrial relations

Supervisors, workers can together foster industrial relations

It was a terrible tragedy, when a soft-spoken Awanish Kumar Dev, the Maruti Suzuki General Manager (HR) was brutally murdered in the factory premises on July 18, 2012. It was reported that the group violence at the plant resulted in his gruesome killing.

It is indeed unfortunate to note that even in the recent past, HR professionals have ended up losing their life in the same manner in other places.

In April 2012, DGM (HR), Madras Cements, RR Nagar was murdered in the company quarters by a suspended union leader.

Further, his wife was also severely injured. In March 2011, R S Roy, Deputy General Manager of Graphite India Ltd, a steel manufacturing company located in Tilagarh in Orissa, was killed by its workers.

The workers stopped the vehicle in which Roy was travelling and set it on fire. In November 2010, Joginder Singh, Manager (HR) of Allied Nippon, an Indo-Japanese auto component firm, was killed at Ghaziabad of Uttar Pradesh by a group of agitating workers who were sacked earlier by the management.

The clash took place when the employees of the company, were protesting the management’s decision of dismissing many workers.

In September 2009, at Pricol, an automotive instruments manufacturing company at Coimbatore took an ugly turn when the agitated workers attacked the company’s Vice-president (HR), Roy J George at the unit itself. He succumbed to injuries.

The workers were agitating for hike in salary and regularization of contract workers. In September 2008, L K Choudhary, CEO of Graziano Trasmissioni India, an Italian auto parts company was killed by a group of workers in its factory in Greater Noida.

Around two months before this incident, few workers were dismissed by the management after they demanded a hike in pay and regularisation of service of contract workers. On the day of this killing, the management had invited the sacked employees for a meeting. However, the workers turned violent during the meeting and attacked Choudhary with iron rods.

Do HR professionals lack control over larger industrial relations issues in the organisation?

Does it reflect that HR professionals are not up to the expected level of competencies to handle such issues? Is the top management weak in managing IR situations?
Is it because the failure of the government machinery to control law and order, give differential treatment to unions and workers who have political backing or outside leadership which is playing a greater role?

Is the sole cause outside union leadership and political parties’ intervention leading to total uncontrolled IR scene. The General Secretary of the Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (Gurgaon plant), blamed the violence at the Maruti plant on outsiders.

"We haven’t got strong evidence yet but it is very likely that the culprits were not workers. Our workers are innocent.”

Is there failure or no reference checks made before inducting workers and preventing criminal elements from entering the workforce?

Organisations might not have given equal thrust for both contract and permanent workers. The character and conduct or “attitude” of employees is the most important factor to foster relationship.

Is it because of unnecessary work pressure by MNC companies as projected by unions?
Is it because of a dual policy by the management to engage contract workers with less pay and allow them to work along with permanent workers who get far better salaries and benefits? Is it that managements are not adopting proactive industrial relations management or lack a mature approach to build relationships?

Do the companies lack a strong, fair and committed approach to resolve plant level and individual grievances emerging out of discrimination, indiscipline, harassment including sexual harassment and supervisors incompetent to handle human issues?

Training supervisors

Maruti Suzuki has reopened the plant some months back  and said one of the top priorities is to organise an intensive training programme for its plant managers and supervisors to avoid any similar confrontations with the workers by detecting problems early on.

Focus of the training is to explain the do’s and don’ts, and preventive action the plant managers need to take and give top priority to resolve the grievances including a simple argument, diagnose workers’ discontent at the root and communicate to top management to avoid any major problems. Supervisors and workers together foster or crack industrial relations or human relations in any setup. A clap can happen only with two hands and not one.

From times immemorial, we have been conducting training programmes to supervisors and managers in a variety of ways.

Whether organisations are providing suitable platforms to all the workers to share their feelings and come out openly on issues concerning them? Do the supervisors have genuine interest to give attention to emotional issues or do they confront the workers by quoting rules and regulations? 

When issues emerge between husband and wife, they may resolve them with elders and seek their advice or sit with a counselor for advice. Even if they go to court for divorce, there will be a joint sitting and counseling.

Recently, High Court Judges have offered their piece of mind and their counseling has motivated couples to reconcile and reunite. However, in the industry, it is always programmes are being organised separately to Supervisors & Managers and never ever such programmes are conducted jointly.

Training programmes should be conducted wherein the supervisors and managers should sit along with workers and learn the skills to handle emotional issues, learn to appreciate each other’s perceptions and resolve issues.

Training should happen at the grass root level and do it together for a better outcome. Sometimes, an open forum should be created to “wash the dirty linen in public”.
It means, allow workers to pent up their frustration in front of supervisors and managers and later resolve the genuine issues.

Managements do organise training programmes to workers to build organisational culture, build value system etc. But such programmes tear them apart as supervisors and managers would attend separately.

For how long can organisations go with conventional path of conducting programmes with same old capsule? It is time to bring workers and supervisors on one platform to deal with sentient issues. They need to be trained together on human relations skills, problem-solving skills, listen to each other, exchange ideas and allow them to find solutions for themselves rather than adopting a top-down approach or solve the problems through union leaders.

Supervisors and managers need to assume a parental role, live and let live with co-workers, be a mentor for their success and problems, build personal rapport rather than representing the management and treat them as a separate entity in the organisation.

They should learn and practice the ways and means of creating a cordial industrial relation situation based on basic human values of trust, care, transparency, fairness, respect and treat people with self-esteem.

(The author is an HR Advisor and Trainer)

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