IR: Why trade union leaders need a knowledge upgradation


Due to this lack of awareness and thoughtfulness, trade unions waste their energy in fighting a wrong battle against the well aware battery of staff, consultants and lawyers of employers.

Peter Drucker, in his work, Managing in Turbulent Times said, “One gets paid only for strengths; one does not get paid for weaknesses. The question, therefore, is first: What are our specific strengths? And then: Are they the right strengths? Are they the strengths that fit the opportunities of tomorrow, or are they the strengths that fitted those of yesterday? Are we deploying our strengths where the opportunities no longer are, or perhaps never were? And finally, what additional strengths do we have to acquire?”

Our trade union leaders are somewhat different. Most of the local trade union leaders do not bother to learn the updated legal rights, duties, data, information, etc. pertaining to them, their co-workers and employers. This leads to a very myopic view point on every subject.

Let’s take the case of Indian Government proposing to amend PF provisions to restrict the withdrawal of employer’s contribution before retirement, and to divert this for monthly pension after retirement. The trade unions objected to it, and the Government had to drop the proposal. Who was the gainer?

Only about 11 per cent of India’s workforce participates in any sort of guaranteed retirement income. Most of the workers withdraw a major share of their PF amount during their service period only. As a result, their entire post-retirement life is left at the mercy of others, including their offspring, who rarely care for them.

 “If you have done some interesting activity in the space of employee engagement, learning and development, employee referral, please share with us at”

 In India, 55 million elderly sleep on an empty stomach every night. 90 per cent of the elderly have to continue to work if they have to survive. More than two thirds of the Oldest Old (80+) are financially dependent on others.

Where are these PF holders expected to get support to continue their living and medical attention (without ESI) during almost more than two decades of their post-retirement life/old age?

Before reacting on this proposal, the trade unions did not bother to think about the retired employees, just because they are not politically advantageous to them. Why couldn’t the employer’s share of PF be diverted to a pension fund, like it was for pensionable government employees?

One argument was that they may need this money today for children’s education, marriages, housing, etc. But, the challenging question is that if they cannot manage without this half of the PF during their earning days, how can they manage their life without it during their non-earning phase when they are likely to be ailing and encountering cost escalation? An individual can be expected to have a myopic view, but not the organisations created in the name of welfare.

The question is who decides that free will is better than social security?

Just reconsider: Free will and security are a mismatch at the fundamental level. We cannot keep our health secure if we don’t control our free will to eat whatever junk we find tasty, and to find excuses to avoid exercising. Take a call!

All the natural forces — be it gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, etc.— responsible for creating and maintaining everything under the universe, including we and our constituents, need to behave in a disciplined manner to maintain natural and social equilibrium. If gravity had the free will to select something to pull or push, nothing will get created; everything will collapse, including our society.

Whose concern is it to educate the union leaders and followers now? All begins from the self — the manager, the leader.

Due to this lack of awareness and thoughtfulness, trade unions waste their energy in fighting a wrong battle against the well aware battery of staff, consultants and lawyers of employers. They just rely on their gut-felt agenda, may be a feeble one, fight through mobocracy, and often ignorantly leave other genuinely winnable agenda unattended. Some managers keep them engaged in petty politics to let major issues remain under the carpet. This creates a credibility crisis.

The role of trade unions should also include encouragement and facilitation of their members towards saving for a comfortable future, career growth, skill development, rehabilitation, health, hygiene, social collaboration, additional sources of income, etc. Unfortunately, hardly any one is doing this seriously.

The fact is trade unions restrict their role to politics and chaotic duels with the employers. They love and fight for direct increments, promotions and immediate benefits, but are shortsighted enough to not be interested in diverting some portion of these immediate benefits to social security and post-retirement wellness of these employees. This is simply because such actions do not suit the political agenda of claiming their victory on getting the current wage in-hand increased. Given a choice, they may even prefer to add proportionate gratuity to monthly cash-in-hand.

PH Singh

As per Gandhi Ji, a successful union leader himself, the primary role of unions, “should be to raise the moral and intellectual standards of labour.” However, this is still missing from the agenda of unions. Instead, in fact, the style of unions got influenced by the short-cut Marxism, without bothering to know the depth and width of true Marxism. Short-cuts cannot replace a thorough process that is why things keep shuttling between offensiveness and defensiveness, to win petty battles and lose a major war. The primary role of unions as suggested by Gandhi Ji is yet to see the light of day.

Now, whose concern is it to educate the union leaders and followers now? All begins from the self — the manager, the leader. Learning develops through the willingness to know more, reading extensively, open-minded thinking, fair discussions, disciplined lifestyle, and experiencing humbleness. It does not automatically come through a position in society or hierarchy.

The union leader and IR manager must be eager to acquire updated knowledge of provisions and happenings. An egoist sitting on a mental island cannot grow intellectually. Nowadays, we hardly find leaders and IR managers who read to keep themselves updated on laws, rules, regulations, court orders, etc. Others assume certain ‘rights’ and shout from rooftops, without giving a thought to the related ‘duties’, just like we assume ‘freedom of expression’ without linking it to the responsibility of truthfulness.

Our egocentrism is another big hurdle in our knowledge upgradation. Here, we believe that whatever is known or believed by us is the ultimate. We tend to be reluctant to amend our mind even after getting some fresh inputs. This reluctance costs us tremendously, but we love to stick to it, just because our ego gets hurt on changing our stance. It is immature to carry the egocentrism forward at the cost of peace and prosperity.

(The author is plant HR head, Hero MotoCorp.)


  1. Do agree with Mr. Singh view. But to make shift from bargainer to developer an organisation has to build long tern ER Strategy that includes coaching and continuous mentoring to Union leaders. Today I see we lack commitment for sustainable result. Many times even talking on such issues are taken as a non priority agenda for organization . Since most o the organization looking for quick solutions so even professional are under pressure to go for quick fix solutions than looking for long term. Good article to read. Thanks to Mr. Singh again

  2. Dear Sir

    Your article “Why Union Leaders need a knowledge upgradation’ is very insightful and helps younger HR/IR professionals like me to understand and appreciate the core and gravity of IR. I Look forward to more such educating articles from you Sir.

    I recently watched the Nat Geo Documentary on Hero Motor Corp and was amazed by the work culture and technical dexterity. No doubt such a magnanimous organisation is driven by people like you.

  3. Very insighful article Sir. Thank you for highlighting such issues that our industries are grappling with and guiding young HR professionals like me into the right direction!

  4. A thoughtful contribution. I remember your initiatives in the past on educating workers and unions and you must be utilising the same experience / approach here.
    Best Wishes

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