Bajaj Auto Union: First Steps On a Road Less Travelled
Arvind Shrouti of Option Positive, the advisor to 100+ unions in the Pune – Chinchwad belt invited me to join a very novel project. If it is not the only one o fits kind, it is surely one of the rare projects in India.
Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sanghatanadecided to shape its and its members’ future proactively. It invited Arvind Shrouti to help its members define it and prepare plans for future.
Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sanghatana [VKKS for brevity] has a very interesting history. Bajaj Auto closed down its Akurdi plant on 29th Aug 2007 abruptly. The intention was to move production to Uttaranchal plant which offered advantages in terms of labour cost and financial benefits. Shiv Sena union seems to have helped Bajaj in this closure. VKKS stepped in and got the Shiv Sena union derecognised, and fought lone battle against Bajaj Auto. Finally a settlement was arrived at. Broadly speaking, as per the new terms of contract, each worker was to be paid upfront Rs 5.75 lakh in cash in hand and the remaining Rs 12 lakh would be paid in monthly instalments of Rs 10,000 for the next 10 years.
VKKS then organised the workers at the Chakan Plant of Bajaj Auto. This history is important. The immediate concern of its members appears to be how to protect them from a possible loss of job in future. They are aware that the vicissitudes of economy can hit them before they are ready for it. Their long term vision is a reflection of their desire to keep happiness and wellness, not just physical wellness but psychological too, as priorities, while preparing for future shocks, if any. And they are aware that unions have earned a bad name in recent times, they want it to have a positive image for their union.
The one day workshop generated a lot of ideas and enthusiasm. It was preceded with some work on delegates working in groups, preparing collage to convey their dreams with pictures. Interesting thoughts had gone behind making collage. Emerging strongly were concerns of children’s education, social security and empowerment of women. They showed heightened social awareness stating that they must play a part in preventing female infanticide! One group emphasised the need to listen actively, while another group emphasised the need to make their union vice-free. One delegate narrated how he had helped an employee to give up the habit of chewing tobacco [I saw his sms to this delegate thanking him for it!]. A lot of new thoughts and a renewed dedication to take charge of their own lives – this is what made this event so energising.
Establishing meaningful livelihood is everybody’s goal, it should be. It means having enough money to provide for oneself and family and ‘acceptance of his sense of worth.’ If deliberations are any indication, VKKS delegates are undoubtedly marching in that direction.
I was fortunate to be a part of this endeavour. I wish them success.
Alvin Toffler said, “For the first time in human history, virtue is a condition of effective work.” Yes, people are listening Mr Toffler.
PS: The photographs show Arvind Shrouti leading the discussion and the delegates involved in a group exercise.
Comment by Dr Krishnamurty:
I have also heard of this and it is a rarity to see persons so focussed and taking a positive and proactive approach to transform their own future. Unions in India largely focus only on the charter of demands, generally once in 3 years and bonus on an annual basis. There is a bankruptcy not of ideas but support for the larger and more fundamental issues of improving the quality of life of the family of the worker, transforming the attitudes of workers to the workplace, safety, discipline, productivity, etc. Thermax Union has made significant achievements there and I think it was one of the first unions to get an ISO 9000 certification. They can discuss the balance sheet, ROI, and analyse the performance of the company and what is the per unit cost, labour rate, labour cost, etc. In all this the common factor is Arvind Shrouti, who had done wonders with his infectious enthusiasm, patience and dedication to build a strong foundation so that what he is working for will be there for all to see and there for a long time around. This is an equally epoch making event like the Dr. Datta Samant strikes or the closure of the textile industry, which is a negative variant of publicity. This is the positive dimension and I am happy that you are putting this in the blog that will enable many hardcore HR professionals to have a look at this. It is indeed refreshing and worth studying.
Dr. R. Krishna Murthy
Its wonderful to read this!! Wonderful to see a union with a positive agenda and also an extensive agenda!!Wish them all the best!!!
VKKS's approach to the issue at hand needs to be known & appreciated by a wider audience – media, CTU's, government etc. Proactive steps like these would go a long way in strengthening the worker-union bond.
Great move and kudos to Arvind. I think we should now inflence acads to stop teaching Collective Bargaining, which according to me is now a technique which is completely out of tune with what is happening and more importantly, I am always at discomfort on the process as the starting point is mistrust, but when I started my career, I had no choice, as they say in Marathi Jati sathi Mati khavi laagte!