I have an untold story about labour reforms. It must be told. Let me explain. I visited many places in different states, and also visited industries there. I realised that the Hon’ble Prime Minister is completely misled on the issue of labour Law Reforms. The reforms have already taken place!
Here is what I discovered:
Ministers have a ‘helping’ attitude [So do Employers, they help Ministers]!
I met an entrepreneur. His establishment was an SME, and it had built up reputation in the market. During my conversation he told me that his workers were organised by a union which was led by a Minister. The entrepreneur had excellent rapport with his workers and identified the workers who were members. Simultaneously a deal was struck with the Minister. The entrepreneur removed the members gradually and made his organisation ‘union-free.’ All this with the connivance of the Minister. All is well now on the IR front.
Government Officials are so friendly!
In a small establishment, I was looking up their statutory records. The Accident register was blank for the last three years. I questioned the HR Manager. He initially said that there was no accident at all and they have an accident free factory. He pointed out to the big board at the main gate which talked about high safety standards. On more detailed questioning he admitted that there were accidents. But entry in accident register meant harassment from Factory inspectorate. Several visits. Threats of prosecution. Bribes. This solution was easily implemented with a small payment during Diwali festival to the Factory inspectorate. This story with the same theme is repeated with change of names of players and change of some insignificant details almost everywhere.
The HR manager hastened to add that the Company pays compensation in case of accidents. Aw! Grateful for small mercies, Sir!
Even workers are helping to make changes in law!
I was speaking to a Silvassa based manager of plastic goods manufacturer. The number of permanent workers in that factory was in the range 10 to 20. Contract labourers numbered 300. Permanent workers worked 8 hour shift and the contract labour, mainly from Odisha, invariably worked 12 hours shift. That was an express but only a verbal term of employment. Why so? I asked. The reply [and this is unfortunately true!] was that if you give them eight hour shift, they go and work elsewhere another 8 hours because the workers from Odisha come to Silvassa with the only intention of making money!
This manager feared that I might advise his bosses to ensure that only 8 hour shift is run in the company. So he went on to caution me, “This is well accepted system here. Do not disturb it.”
Gujarat has allowed manufacturers, so also neighbouring Union Territories, to make their own labour laws!
Managers with ‘cadre blindness!’
I was to hold a training program on Employee Relations, at the insistence of their HO in Mumbai, in a very large plant elsewhere. It was delayed. Not once but twice. The reason was that the Plant HR Manager did not want the program to be held there at all. But he had to bow to wishes of the HO finally. On arrival he said I could talk about anything except labour laws, and discipline. The reason was that ‘Our plant is run by engineers and ITI operators. So far we have no union, and do not want too. Please do not give them ideas.’ What was there to be afraid of? The plant was run in the first shift by permanent employees. But it was run in the second and third shift by contract employees! And the operating managers were advised that the ‘grievances’ of contract workers must be handled by contractor – to keep sanctity of the contract.
This blindness [of the Nelson’s Eye type] to the cadre of contract workers was threatened by the proposed training on ER.
Unions are conniving with Employers, though a few are pragmatic!
In a certain auto industrial unit, trainees and contract labour is grossly exploited and misused. Their number runs in hundreds. The union of permanent employees was waging a war against the company for wage revision. The union lodged several cases on this issue in the Labour Court. Finally an agreement was reached between the company and the union of the permanent workers, and they signed it with a lot of fanfare. One of the term of the agreement was that the union will withdraw all cases lodged in the labour court. So who is using contract labour for gains? Company or union? Or Both?
In an engineering industry separate settlements are signed with temporary workers. The official stance of the union is that ‘we have to accept that nothing in life is permanent, but we as a union can mitigate the hardship.’ So this being a practical way out, the union has ensured that both, temporary workers and contract workers are given a pay rise. Interesting stance that recognises reality of industrial life while ensuring that their ‘IR rules’ are reset, without waiting for labour law amendments.
Ab bolo, Narendrabhai, all is well, why make changes in law at all?
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.