Industrial Relations – Thermax Union Way
Secondly, they differ in the way the way unions played their role in transformation. Presented to the world outside are the ‘how we did it’ stories where the role of unions is typically underplayed.
How will a trade union look at the transformation of the work place? We have heard the management stories a hundred times, but have we ever heard it from a union?
Madan Kulkarni, Production Manager and Keshav Gholave, President of Thermax Kamgar Sanghatna made a joint presentation at one of the conferences where I was also invited. All in the audience were struck by the passionate manner in which the Union President was explaining the changes brought about at Thermax. Very clearly the transformation had touched the lives of employees but it was also obvious that the story had a very proactive response of the employees’ union.
I had the opportunity recently to meet the entire union committee of Thermax at their Chinchwad Plant. I sought a meeting with them. The entire committee met me and was explaining to me their journey. A new union committee was elected in 2003. They started bringing about changes in many ways. It has been about eight years and the difference is visible. Such a change was unlikely to sustain without an initial ‘win.’ So I asked them what it was. After much thought they mentioned that the union committee could effectively address the biggest grievance of the workers, ‘gradation’ or job evaluation. The approach of the union and a very positive stance of some managers helped both the parties to address this issue.
Around the same time there was another issue brewing – it was of implementation of MOST [Maynard Operation Sequence Technique]. The union’s stance was that they were not opposed to it. They were rather committed to improvement of productivity, but they were unhappy about the way it was sought to be implemented. Both the parties weathered the storm and emerged stronger.
The union today has several firsts to its credit. It is, they believe, first union to obtain certification under ISO 9000 – 2008. A visit to union office makes this completely clear. Meetings are video recorded! You will see a very neat and tidy arrangement of their records. They have a SOP for their work!
Thermax union meets once in three months at a nearby temple when they provide an account of their work to their members and use this meeting for effective communication. In fact, they call it a ‘communication meeting’ [whoever told us that such were things to be done only by managers?].
The Thermax Union also conducts ‘Workman Satisfaction Survey!’ I feel this may really be the first scored by the union. They circulated a seven question survey questionnaire about the union’s role. The requirement of ISO was to conduct a sample survey but the union quickly realised the need to involve all workmen. All 598 workers were invited to respond. Conclusion: 95% satisfied and 5% dissatisfied workers. This high number of satisfied workers seems to be the result of their excellent rapport with their members and communication.
The union has established a medical trust. The approach is that they should be self reliant to the extent possible. It has also persuaded management of Thermax to extend financial support to at least three students, workers’ children, studying in USA and Germany.
Thermax Union has participated in several major cost reduction studies and projects. It was interesting to note that they always ask for ‘facts first’ before talking of solutions. They talk the language of RFT, TPM, Kaizen [on an average each workman has done 30 Kaizen projects] etc. They claim that they have saved over 18 crores in inventory and have improved productivity several times. And they talk about it with ‘facts and figures.’
This positivity has been heightened by some of their own [and unusual] decisions. They hold union elections once in three years. There is a clear understanding that the committee members must be those ‘who do not smoke, do not drink and do not remain absent without pay for even one day!’ Quite a high standard of behaviour!! Pandurang Ghogre, Gen Secretary told me that some workers got together to build a small temple near their residence. They invite big names to deliver talk [such used to be the culture in Maharashtra earlier but sadly it is dying] for the community.
While workmen at Thermax deserve credit, there is a shy man behind this change at Thermax Union, who also avoids publicity. Arvind Shrouti of Option Positive guides them well and as the name of his organisation suggests, helps them respond positively. And their new HR Head, Sharad Gangal who has an enviable record of building positive employee relations, could not have asked for a better situation to start his innings.
With Pune fast emerging as manufacturing hub, Thermax Union is certainly showing the way to many of the industrial workmen.
This comes closest to my version of an Indian 'Maverick' story (of the Semco corporation fame). This article reestablishes the fact that there is so much value waiting to be unlocked in each and every human endeavour.Great nations are built when individuals decide to make a difference and lead by example. This Thermax case inspires all those who believe in the power of 'Values' centred 'Living' and is an solid rebuke for all the naysayers (who sadly form the majority).
Comments received via email are posted here:
Salil Chinchore [Cadbury] Quite amazing. The union seem have evolved in the 'value based approach' to the profession. Many a times, such unions handle their profession like a effective management! One such union I came across is Association Chemical Workers in Mumbai. However, in terms of ways of working and philosophical alignment, nothing that can beat Thermax union. While this is what we see on the surface now, I'm sure a lot must have gone into making it happen. Would be keen to visit them and understand the entire story.
Anirudha Deshmukh [Asian Paints] Thanks for sharing it! What an inspiring story! One can imagine the immense positiveness which drive such initiatives!! All the people involved in making this happen are real heroes!!
Comments received via email are posted here:
Sir, I like the proactive way of them taking action into their hands.
Is this the 21st century union?
I hope so. It sounds exciting and I personally would like to meet some of them.
This is a great thing to be happening and the positivity of the union / workmen language, connecting to the business impact of their is something which is out of the dream.
I believe Thermax company and their HR leadership, which made this happen, deserves full appreciation, of course along with their union.
More input on the detailed processes / approach that went in to building this culture will be if great support.
SAI KRISHNAN T C N
Manufacturing matured industries are rarity these days , given the predominance of contract labour dependence in the production in new industries . The most important challenge for the unions of these units is maintain and build the advantage they have in terms of the economic benefits they have secured so far and keep the companies engaged in the mutually productive relationship . This may sound contrived , but the fact of the life being that the companies do not shy away in getting away form a disadvantage in a relationship that is not working out . The patience is short .It is a sign of that the balance of power is getting restored and the unions like Themax are alive to the fact . Off course it also calls on the part of the company to ensure that they also use the opportunity by playing heir mature part and taking the unit to another orbit altogether.
The last unit standing on LBS marg is also indicates the same:)
Thanks for your valuable comments and insights Sunshine, Salil, Anirudha, Suman. Sai Krishnan and Pramod.
This post has been widely appreciated. Some HR professionals have called me up to say so.
In the era where union power seems to be declining. A very constructive and efficient way to show way for the future. In deed an example to be followed.
I had always considered communication meetings, satisfaction surveys, ISO certifications etc. to be the language of the management body. It is very enlightening to know about such examples which gives us a glimpse about how the future unions are going to be which would require much more awareness and proactive behavior from the management body.
Truly an inspiring story for both the unions and the managements!!!