One of the fallouts of the recent unfortunate incidents at Maruti at Manesar, has been a series of articles and debates on how there has to be greater focus on "industrial relations". Some of the articles talk about how in management institutes students are more keen to study Human Resource management and that there are few takers for Industrial Relations as a subject for specialisation. I think this cartesian distinction of IR and HR as two different things is fundamentally flawed. Whether in front of a computer, or in the boardroom, or on the shop floor or working on an assembly line, human resource is human resource. Nothing more, nothing less.
A few years ago, I was approached by the HR manager of a high profile company for a series of workshops. The brief was that there seemed to be a great deal of negativity and very little energy or motivation among some of the 'team' members and this was affecting performance. When I asked for details I was given to understand that these 'team' members who needed energising and motivating were contract workers. They sat in the same office, did the same work as the regular employees, but were paid less than half the salary. On probing further into their work environment, I learned that whereas most of the regular employees ate in the upmarket food courts around the office complex, the contract employees brought food from their homes, or went out and ate in the cheap roadside food stalls outside.
The brief was that they should feel a sense of belonging to the team as a whole, and take ownership of their roles and the larger goals of the team and the organization.
I asked the HR manager whether after a contractual period of 6 months or one year, at least 70 to 80 percent of the contractual employees who performed well could aspire to being absorbed into the regular rolls of the company. The answer was no. It would inflate operational costs and consequently product costs, and make it difficult to compete in the market.
I declined the workshops. There was no way these unfortunate people could be motivated or energised in the current scenario. The injustice of the arrangement was too glaring. The fundamental values and ethics behind the arrangement were wrong!
I do not in any way support violence as a means to dealing with conflict or settling a dispute. It was terribly wrong to have attacked, injured, and killed another human being. This cannot be condoned and the perpetrators of the crime should be dealt with all the severity of justice. At the same time, in order to prevent such tragedies from recurring, what is needed is a redefinition of our approach to handling human resource. Redefining IR as different from HR management will not in my perspective, offer any solutions.
If the newspaper articles on the Manesar tragedy are right, the contract labour were being paid wages of 4000 to 5000 rupees a month. In today's environment of malls, smartphones, pubs, and conspicuous spending by young professionals just out of their institutes, where the rent for a bachelor pad can range from 5000 to 25000 rupees a month, can we reasonably expect a person to live on 5000 rupees a month? If someone works for you over 8 hours a day, it is unfair to expect that he or she supplements the income that they receive from you by working elsewhere. If you are getting a full day's work from a person it is your responsibility to see that this person can live a reasonable life and take reasonable care of a basic family unit on that income. Anything less will create severe negativity, restlessness, heartburn, and in the long run, frustration and even lead to violence.
Lowering costs, beating competition, are significant and desirable objectives. Equally or more important is the comfort and motivation of the people who work for you. As Vineet Nayyar, who has been working miracles in HCL so relevantly puts it, "Happy employees create happy customers". The quality and the productivity that comes from happy and committed employees should help organisations to compete in the market. All those who work for you, all those whose time, sweat, and energy go into the making of your products or services should be considered and nurtured as invaluable human resource.