Synopsis: Communication For Productivity
Letters written to some 7500 Workers / Managers / Union Leaders, following a period of strike / Go slow / Murders (1979 - 1987), at Mumbai factory of Larsen & Toubro Ltd. This direct / open / honest communication led to a remarkable atmosphere of trust between Workers and Management, which, in turn, increased productivity at 3% per year (ave).
30 Sep 1986
General Secretary-BKS Union
Sub: Technological Changes & Employment - Labour Management Co-operation
Last week the two of us attended a National Workshop on "Labour Management Co-operation on Productivity & Technology Changes", at Delhi.
During the course of the 2-day debate, repeatedly the question came up of the staff rendered surplus due to changes in technology/ increase in productivity. It was heartening to hear the leaders of the major central Trade Unions say that they would give full support for modernisation, technological changes and increase in productivity as long as the employers guarantee that there will be no retrenchment of staff as a result of these changes.
Such a positive attitude is a refreshing departure from the dogmatic stand taken by some of the unions in the past. It was obvious that there is an all-round appreciation that neither can we generate additional employment, nor can we improve the standard of living of our citizens unless we adopt - and adapt ourselves - the latest technology and do so rapidly.
The crux of the problem is for the unions, the employees concerned and the management to work together sufficiently in advance so that the employees likely to be affected can be retrained for different jobs. We know that birth is painful. This is equally true of rebirth and all that an organisation can do is to lessen the pain of rebirth. The pain cannot be eliminated altogether. But, to what extent can the pain be reduced would largely depend upon the employee concerned himself. No matter what his age, he must be willing to learn new trades - new skills. He has to make himself useful to the organisation and earn his wages. No organisation can carry on its pay-roll an useless employee permanently.
It is the responsibility of the management to visualise the technological changes on the horizon 2 years or 5 years ahead of time. It is also the responsibility of the management not only to share such "visions" with the employees but to initiate a dialogue with the union sufficiently ahead of time.
It is the responsibility of the employees and the union to co-operate with the management in a smooth change-over to the new technology with the least resistance and maximum accommodation.
I foresee at least two changes on the horizon within Powai during the next 2 to 5 years, as detailed below :
(a) Introduction of Electronic PABX. Our existing PABX system is nearly 25 years old and totally unreliable. I am sure we lose lakhs of rupees worth business every year due to our poor communication system. It is therefore imperative that we change over to the latest technology, viz., the Electronic PABX. This can happen within the next 2 years. This may however, render most of the telephone operators surplus. Ultimately may be just one or two operators may be required.
(b) Computer Aided Design (CAD). All over the developed world, computers are taking over from the Draughtsman. In Powai itself a small beginning has been made by the introudcion of CAD in Group II and III. I foresee a situation where by 1991/92, most of our draughting gets done on computer-driven plotters. This may render surplus most of our Draughtsmen at present numbering 141.
By a copy of this letter I am. asking the concerned Managers to initiate a dialogue with the Union and the concerned employees right away. In my opinion there deployment/ retraining decisions sould emerge jointly in participation with the employees concerned. I am also requesting the Managers all over Powai to let me know what other technological changes they foresee during the next 5 years which may result into surplus people who may require retraining. Let us hope that modernisation in L&T becomes a rewarding experience and not a painful rebirth.