Flippant About Carters
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
Really eye opening. Very well presented.
May it serve as a wake up call for all Top Business Leaders and all HR Leaders.
Absolutely telling heading! Message communicated loud and clear. But are 'they' all listening?
Vivek I agree with ur analysis and this issue obviously is deeper than what we percieve.
All telecom companies are also rocking the same boat
Very encouraging response:
A brilliant post Sir. Very thought provoking.
Hariprasad Menon writes:
For some reason, the "business" focused guys almost always have low quality approach to HR. The irony is that "business successful" guys almost always have a very respectful and wholesome approach to HR !!
I'm always amazed by the shortsightedness of the so called "successful" business managers who always undermine the power of real HR !!
Regards … Hari
Rahul Datta of CESC, Kolkata writes:
The points raised in your blog are very fundamental issues and puts all of us to think whether what we are currently doing are right. Are we doing enough for our employees, irrespective of their rank & file.
While we try to find out answers to these embarrassing questions, we would keep on expecting more from you in future.
Only an HR guy who has vivek like you can write on a under surface burning issue.
Thanks for rocking the boat ….it should be noted by all others who are exploiting contract labour.
This is like a LAVA and will any day burst if the haves keep on exploiting havenots
Can we launch a campaign ?
Here is a response from my long time friend Vilas Dhavale:
While the title is brilliant the contents are outdated. You are living in your old world. Instead of appreciating and being grateful of the brilliant and the bright young generation of IITs & IIMs and the very enlightened entrepreneurs, who are from the same stable, who dedicate some of their hard earned money, saved after losing a part to a few farm houses, to build new & progressive India, you are taking us back to the age of the regressive ideas steeped in stupid concepts of humanity. There is no free ride in the new world and everyone gets what he/she deserves. The courier boys should be grateful that not only they are getting jobs but they also get paid for it; this happens nowhere except in Government jobs. If we had pursued your old world ideas, they would have been starving like million others. It is shame on you that you are writing for a kind of people who do not know what is STEM, the critical knowledge to earn a right of living in the world, and who are wanting to have an easy ride on the logarithmic brilliance of the new businesses. It’s easy for you to write such pieces of trash since you neither have to put in your money nor your life into building great portals of e-commerce. You must at least have some brains to realise that these new businesses are reaching great heights of valuations running into billions and instead of raising silly issues, you must encourage the masses to dedicate their lives to take the valuations to trillions. Who lives if these businesses die and who dies if these businesses thrive? I always respected you as a very well read person, but I have now started doubting your reading abilities. Have you not seen great length stories being published by India’s great media houses on the lives & times of these path breaking ideators and creators of the new businesses, sorry, New India? Every print and virtual media is full of them and even an illiterate person cannot miss them. Clearly you are reading mythologies of old genre. Future belongs to them and they will make us proud through building the new India! India is e-commerce and e-commerce is India!