Thursday, 1 August 2013

Experiences First - 2

Employee grievance handling

As if the platform for teaching me lessons was waiting for me, this happened. Managing Transport fleet was one of my responsibilities. And we had a balanced three pronged fleet of Buses. This wisdom I had inherited. Three fleets meant, in case of failure of up to two of them plants shall not suffer for want of operators. One of the fleet operators was State Transport. While they were reliable, the upkeep of buses was wanting, obviously, since Gujarat had not experienced “Vikas” it has done in recent past (!!), sarcasm is intended. The Drivers also were not the best you can find in the market. As it is that group of professionals have miserably failed in getting accolades and appreciation, due to some reasons for which they them selves are to be blamed. One such reason is habit of indiscriminate consumption of intoxicants.

Commissioning of plants late 70’s resulted in massive recruitment and by the end of the decade, strength had swollen. The transport requirement had gone up not just in magnitude (number of buses playing for shift had gone up to 12) but also demand for extending bus routes, since employees were commuting from all over the town and even nearby towns, had gained momentum. As if to make matter more difficult for us, neighbors had already extended the routes and were picking up employees from nooks and corners. We had only one union till then, or at least effectively there was one.  Demand for such extended facilities and getting the same accepted was an easy membership enhancement drive. Groups of employees marching into our office with demands of extending the bus routes were normal happenings. I remember one day a lady representative, obviously union leader of some variety, who came with a group of 15-20 and was explaining why we should extend one particular route, which touched her house obviously, giving justification that a neighboring company’s buses are already plying on the same. I was humble in my suggestion that she should better join that company, if that is the most satisfying perquisite.

In such a scenario, one State Transport driver one night chose to arrive at sight in high spirits and as if that was not enough picked up quarrel with some employees while dropping them mid of the night. This was taken up as an issue next day when second shift ended. Employees refused to board State Transport buses and threatened to march into Township close to plants where Director and CEO resided.  By the time I could reach site (and that was not too late) they had carried out the threat and had woken up Director. A thorough bred gentleman as he was and a fatherly figure for all of us then, was smoothly talking to the group when I reached his house. Giving the reins in my hand, he actually called me by my first name (use of first name then was limited to extremely close individuals unlike present day salutations, which most times sound very insulting) and promised the crowd that I will settle the issue. I was unable to do so since by then demand raised was to produce Transport Supervisor who, employees felt was responsible for letting the drunken driver elope. I patiently (some of you who know me, may not believe) argued that disciplining TS called for same process as disciplining any one from the group. Obviously that was not enough. By then Union office bearers, who were normally looking for issues had reached site and so had the IR Managers and CEO was woken up by the noise made.

A small group of leaders were taken into CEO’s drawing room and I was also ushered in. CEO listened to them. The State Transport driver was forgotten and demand for extending bus routes which was not “being heard” took the priority. CEO advised us (IR and me) to listen to the demands starting next day, which was 15th August, and see what can be done.

That we discussed the demand, undertook a demand survey, used linear programming and queuing techniques, had multiple route surveys, created pushes and pulls in different directions etc. which took a couple of years to reach conclusion, is a matter of past. The delay was partly designed only to ensure matured decision. By that time I moved and the successor implemented extended routes.