The news of delivery boys of Flipkart and Myntra going on strike did not surprise anybody. There is a very large number of young men employed as delivery boys by the e-tailers, and they need to. The number in Thane alone, I am informed, far exceeds 10,000. If they guarantee a 24 hour delivery of orders they need to employ such a large number.
Flipkart and Myntra made the news for this wrong reason. Flipkart had made news repeatedly for their HR policies – how they increased maternity and paternity leave, the lucrative ESOPs which made managers millionaires caught public imagination. What makes so ‘caring’ an organisation to not worry about the working conditions of its lowest rung of employees?
Because contract workers are persona non-grata! I mean they are not, but that is how they are treated. Simple. They are employed so that Flipkart saves costs. In any case, the official stance would be that it is the responsibility of the contractor to provide basic amenities while Flipkart will drive cost reduction.
Does it remind you of Bangladesh tragedy? Yes. Flipkart’s attitude is nothing original, it is copied and internalised from Walmart’s and many other in the Garments industry.
We know that unscrupulous employers will behave this way, and there has to be a watch-dog. Who is that? Obviously the Government, its Labour Department. This department which earned notoriety for ‘organised’ raids on factories not too long ago, is confused about its role. Should they support the e-tailors, and the industry? And what does that mean? They seemed to be confused about their role to the extent that compliance with labour laws is left to the sweet will of the employer in several cases.
And now let us look at the unions. This is the statement that appeared in Press. “We have told them that we as a political union will not interfere in the meeting. However if they do not resolve the issue, we will have to step in.” Sanjay Gole of the labour Wing of MNS. [Indian Express]. Let us check what the demands of delivery boys are? We turn to Press again. ‘The striking workers have given the company a list of demands, including seeking access to proper washrooms and getting a weekly off on Sundays.’ [Businessline]. In some cases it is about weekly off itself. Press reports also say that while Gole was meeting Flipkart officials, delivery boys gathered in front of Flipkart office – the crowd grew so large that the Company had to call police to control. That is a pointer to simmering volcano.
The point is that why does Gole say that ‘We have told them that we as a political union will not interfere in the meeting.’ Is that the role of a union to which workers go for redressal of their grievances? Support of a union is required precisely because workers as a group cannot match the force of management. We have to appreciate that management has hierarchy where compliance with the decision is absolute necessity. That is not the case with a crowd of workers. So they can’t match the might of Flipkart.
Now we have, not just the State Government which is confused about its role, but we also have MNS Union.
And they are joined by Flipkart plus Myntra. The Employers.
I searched if I can read Flipkart’s HR policy on internet. Blame it on my poor search skills, I could not find it. In this world where everything is in the open space, people can read your policies provided, of course, if you dare to put it on your website like many MNCs do. It does not take great intelligence to understand that publishing policies on the website makes managers accountable; who likes that?
A great organisation cannot think about its employees alone. Even within that employee group, there are sub-sets. Flipkart is accused of differentially and preferentially treating IITians and IIM graduates. Not an uncommon phenomenon in Indian industry. [Read Forbes piece here] The caste system is prevalent in Indian Industry in its new avatar. But a global organisation must think about its indirectly engaged people, or contractors’ employees. Basic minimum facilities must be provided. Walmart and its peers in Garments industry learnt this lesson the hard way in Bangladesh episode.
Here we come to a difficult question: What is meant by ‘basic minimum facilities?’ That is a value loaded question! When you say ‘basic minimum’ you also have to make up your mind about what is basic minimum facilities to human beings. It calls for searching answers in your world of experience; it gets determined by your sensibilities and values.
That’s a tough call [really?] in corporate life. You can’t expect that of a customer focused organisation which unfortunately and wrongly allows corporate managers to take their eyes off employees.
Such incidents make me feel that the union militancy will rise again – but I may be wrong, if Gole’s statement is any indication.
Vivek S Patwardhan