( Contributor : A M Deshmukh )
This is a story relating to one of our subsidiary Companies having history of constant Industrial Relations problems. The unit was employing about 450 employees and was working in all three shifts. The majority of the workmen were working in the 1st and General shift and very few in the 2nd and 3rd shift.
The workmen were represented by the same union, which was recognized at our main factory at Powai. There was a unit level committee of five employees to represent unionized employees. Out of 5 committee members, 3 were moderate and 2 aggressive and militant. However, these local committee was under control /guidance of the union leaders at Powai, in respect of all major issues.
One day in the 3rd shift one of the union leader was caught committing a serious misconduct. The next day matter went up to the Senior Management level. As disciplinary action involved a union committee member, it would have definitely resulted in a serious IR problem and disruption of normal operations. Considering gravity of the misconduct and his past record it was decided to suspend him pending inquiry, act swiftly by taking all follow up actions. In view of the grave misconduct it was necessary to ensure that he is not permitted to enter the factory premises and suspension orders are issued forthwith.
The following steps were involved in the implementation of the above decision.
1) To serve the Suspension Order (pending inquiry) at the gate before this leader enters the factory premises for working in the 3rd shift so that his entry to factory premises will be stopped
2) To issue charge sheet, complete domestic inquiry and then to dismiss him in view of very serious nature of his misconduct.
The Unit Management being fully aware of the local IR situation anticipated the serious IR repercussion as soon as suspension order was served.
1) The person concerned will refuse to accept the order and when stopped from entering the factory premises he will also stop all other workman (who were small in number) of the 3rd shift from entering the factory premises:
“WHICH MEANS BEGINING OF STRIKE IN THE 3RD SHIFT “
2) Next day when 1st & General shift workman report for duty, they will be also stopped by this leader, as well as other workman of 3rd shift (who would be already on strike), from entering factory premises and hence the strike will engulf the 1st and General shifts as well.
3) Management will not have any opportunity to involve other moderate leaders of the unit as well Powai union leader before start of such spontaneous strike by all workmen.
4) Moderate union leaders of the Unit, as well, Powai leaders will not have any opportunity to take a appropriate stand / approach before start of strike and they will have to fall in line helplessly. Thus giving rise to the situation of drawing the entire unit into a long drawn out industrial dispute.
To avoid such potentially explosive situation leading to a strike and still deal with grave misconduct firmly, the other option was:
a) To permit the said leader to enter the factory premises and to permit him to work in 3rd shift, as usual and differ issuing of the Suspension order at the beginning of the 3rd shift.
b) To issue the Suspension order after closer of the 3rd shift and after ensuring commencement of work of the 1st&the General shift.
While above option was far more practical & a tactical move and could have avoided potential lightening strike situation, the decision to allow the said workman to work in the 3rd shift and not take immediate cognizance of his act of serious indiscipline (by stopping his entry at the gate), was not in line with clear directions of the top management to act swiftly in this matter.
Knowing Management will always be supportive of the local unit management‘s opinion and judgment, particularly while dealing with local IR issues, it was decided, in the overall interest, not to follow the instructions received from senior management.
Hence it was decided:
-- Not issued Suspension order at the beginning of the shift and permitted the leader to work in 3rd shift as normal
-- The leader was asked to wait at the gate while the leaving the factory after the end of his shift working in the 3rd shift
-- The local union leaders who reported for work in the 1st & general shift were called and briefed
-- Simultaneously, Powai Management also briefed Union committee members.
As expected, the concerned leader refused to accept the Suspension order and started mobilizing support of all the workman of the factory calling upon them to strike work. However, to his surprise, he could not get support and he could not force his decision on the other local unit leaders as well Powai committee as they already knew the facts of the case and the misconduct for which suspension order was issued.
-- No strike and smooth working continued in all shifts.
--The leader did not report to work next 3 / 4 days and eventually accepted the Suspension order and faced the inquiry.
-- Finally after completion of inquiry he was awarded punishment of one step lesser of dismissal.
What I learned and have always experienced while working in L&T is …
...that the Management respected opinion and advice of professional managers even while deciding on sensitive IR issues and ensured full empowerment to the operating management to deal with local level operating issues within the overall guidelines
… the natural outcome, managers never hesitated to take ownership, do their best to find a good solution and also remain accountable for the outcomes of their actions.
30 / 12 / 2015