IR: Are Indian workers becoming more volatile?

Is social media playing a significant part in fuelling labour violence?

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Recently, there was a video doing the rounds where a mob of people including both men and women were seen mercilessly beating up two people.

The two victims in the video were part of the management – one a doctor, and the other a pharmacist – of Dikom Tea Estate in Assam.

Apparently, one woman worker was injured when a tree fell on her during a storm, she was rushed to the hospital run by the tea estate, but did not survive. The loss of her life irked her fellow labourers, who soon turned into a violent mob, venting their angst on the doctor and the assistant manager.

The management of Dikom Tea Estate released a press statement saying that a mob of about 300 people comprising workers, non-workers and outsiders assembled in front of the tea-estate run hospital and brutally assaulted the estate medical officer and pharmacist, illegally confined them for more than a couple of hours.

The duo were rescued by the police and rushed to the hospital given the grievous nature of  injuries suffered by them.

The question that comes to our mind is, ‘How volatile are labourers becoming?’ ‘Is the aggression increasing with time?’

Since, the woman worker was a victim of a natural calamity and the doctor or managerial staff was not responsible for it, the growing intolerance of workers and other residents, specially on taking law in their hands was a matter of concern for the management, the estate was locked out.

The management agreed to resume operations at the tea estate only after, the culprits were booked.

Whenever a mishap occurs in a plant, the manager is blamed! In this case, the man was brought to harm by a natural phenomenon. But what prompted hundreds of men and women to turn into a dangerous mob and indulge in violence?

Paneesh Rao

“When people get violent, it is not always a reaction to something that happened yesterday. The reaction has its roots in suppressed emotions because of unfulfilled demands over a long period of time”

Sporadic instances of unreasonable behaviour of labourers are reported from across the length and breadth of the country. But with time, the brutality has only increased, with workers reacting on the slightest provocation, and how!

Most mishaps occur due to their own lack of attentiveness. But, when a fellow labourer gets wounded, it is always the management that is held responsible.

“When people get violent, it is not always a reaction to something that happened yesterday,” says Paneesh Rao, CHRO, L & T Technology Services. “The reaction has its roots in suppressed emotions because of unfulfilled demands over a long period of time,” adds Rao.

A plant generally has two-three thousand labourers and one manager. The mob mentality among the shop-floor workers can be fatal for the manager and his supporters.

Ravi Mishra, senior VP, HR & admin, Birla Carbon says, “Members of the working class are more aware of their rights today and suffer a heart-burn because they are receiving a very small share of the pie. Moreover, they are familiar with the company’s earnings and the management’s spending.”

The plant workers have also got empowered by technology. Everyone carries mobile phones these days and knows how to record a video. In addition, they know how to leverage the power of the media.

Ravi Mishra

“Education is very vital for supervisors at the shop floor. The management should leverage learning to improve the culture”

“Social media is a cause for increased violence, because a lot of false news spreads hatred easily and people do not know how to filter the right and wrong. Moreover, political situations, such as elections can have a triggering effect too,” opines Rao.

Mishra says it is common for workers to record a manager on an audio-video clip. “If the manager’s tone is not good, an action is taken but it may be a time-taking process. Education is very vital for supervisors at the shop floor. The management should leverage learning to improve the culture.”

Sadly, some belts remain more volatile than others. One such belt is that of Manesar near Gurgaon, notorious for labour volatility and angst. The Maruti Suzuki plant situated there has witnessed multiple violent outbursts by the labour class. In a historic case that lasted five years, 31 workers were convicted by the Gurgaon Session Court in 2017, of which, 13 were sentenced to life imprisonment.

“Being aware of their rights does not mean they can indulge in violence”

Last year, Mitsuba’s HR head, Binesh Sharma, was shot by a sacked employee. Mitsuba is a Gurgaon-based Japanese company with its unit in Manesar.

Violence has also taken place at the Toyota Kirloskar factory. “When it happens it goes to the extent of killing, and nothing less than that,” says Rao.

Plant HR head at Hero Motor Corp, PH Singh says, “Being aware of their rights does not mean they can indulge in violence.”

Our dream of moving towards a diverse and inclusive workforce will not see the light of the day until the manufacturing units in certain belts become safe for women employees.

Moreover, we cannot get shaken only after an incident has taken place. Singh says that the management is taking enough measures to rule out any hostile or negative behaviour among workers.

“The management is becoming more aware of workers’ needs and quality of life. The change has also come because many of the companies are joint ventures and have foreign clients who visit the plants occasionally,” reasons Rao.

While exploitation has reduced dramatically, aggression among workers is definitely on the rise.

 

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