Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Jet saga....

Lay Off: (Sec 2(kkk) Industrial Disputes Act 1947) "lay-off" (with its grammatical variations and cognate expressions) means the failure, refusal or inability of an employer on account of shortage of coal, power or raw materials or the accumulation of stocks or the break-down of machinery or natural calamity or for any other connected reason to give employment to a workman whose name is borne on the muster-rolls of his industrial establishment and who has not been retrenched

Retrench: (Sec 2(oo) Industrial Disputes Act 1947) "retrenchment" means the termination by the employer of the service of a workman for any reason whatsoever, otherwise than as a punishment inflicted by way of disciplinary action, but does not include - (a) voluntary retirement of the workman; or

(b) retirement of the workman on reaching the age of superannuating if the contract of employment between the employer and the workman concerned contains a stipulation in that behalf; or

(bb) termination of the service of the workman as a result of the non-removal of the contract of employment between the employer and the workman concerned on its expiry or of such contract being terminated under a stipulation in that behalf contained therein; or

(c) termination of the service of a workman on the ground of continued ill-health;

Today the airlines industry are unable to give employment to the workmen due to shortage of passengers, who are the one of the raw materials for the aviation/services industry. But they have not laid off their workers. They have retrenched them.

Till a few months back, employees never had it so good. They could jump ship at the slightest provocation, sometimes for as much as a INR 2000/- ($41) increase in salary. HR managers at high attrition companies worried their hair out, about whether they critical resource walking out of the door every evening would be back the next day. The Gen-X did not know what it was to be without a job.

The bad news is out. Jet laid off close to 850 people and are planning to lay-off more. AI has announced that 1500 people will be asked to go on leave without pay for 3-5 years. While laying off people is not illegal, nor is it a subject matter of political debate, there are ways of doing this without unnecessary heart ache. Nor is it true, that the PYT who just jumped abroad from Kingfisher without waiting to complete her due notice period just because the going was good, has got what she deserved. Here we are talking about lives. Young lives who for better or worse have no other training. They followed their dreams and their dreams led them to this.

Very soon we might see the same thing repeated across IT/ITES sector, given the fact that Obama is leading in the popularity poll. The BPO worker is specially vulnerable. They hardly have any other training or experience to do any other work. At that juncture is it proper to ask the Government to bail out the sick companies? Even if the Govt. pumps in cash into the ailing companies, how long will the company survive on crutches? But then, we are used to giving crutches to all and sundry instead of trying to involve them in the mainstream. Now the question is how do we cope in these times? Increase spending? Increase the Gross National Debt? That is just pushing today's problem to tomorrow. Anyway here I am dergressing from the topic.

CITU and MNS are waiting in the wing to jump into the fray to be seen as the saviour of the poor. They are asking for a bail out of the aviation industry. If the government bails out the aviation industry today, is it prepared to bail out the IT/ITES industry tomorrow? There are dharnas and morchas asking Jet to take back the employees. Is it fair to ask the industry to keep excess workers on roll while they are bleeding? Have we forgotten the Bombay Mills so soon? Aren't we ever going to learn from history? I don't have the answer. I don't know who has the answer. But I have a question for Mr. Naresh Goyal.

Mr. Goyal, you knew your company was bleeding. You knew that you might go in for a code sharing agreement with Kingfisher. You knew that when the going got tough, you would have to let go a significant number of your people. You are a businessman and not a social activist. I respect all that. But Sir, would you please stand up, look at those young faces you axed, look them in the eye and tell them that you did this to save the company? Could you cross your heart and do that? I have only one problem with this retrenchment. Why have you done this in such a shady manner? You could have gone ahead and fired everyone, no one would have said a thing. It is your company after all. But why in a way that makes it appear so shady, so cheap? And when you did this where was your HR manager Mr. Goyal?

To the HR manager of Jet Airways, You are a scum and people like you bring the entire profession of HR into disrepute. You know your numbers. You know which way the wind is blowing. You know who you need to retain and who to let go. And you know the law. More importantly you know your employees. You have been trained in soft skills. If you don't you don't deserve to call yourself a HR manager. You deserve to bloody shoot yourself. Where was your training when you needed it? If you had to go ahead and nuke people, you din't need your degree in HR. Do you Mr. HR Manager of Jet Airways, suppose that though this retrenchment is legally justified, it is morally justified? What were you thinking when you pulled off the cowardly act and sent retrenchment letters to the employees by courier? Remember Mr. HR Manager of Jet Airways, you wouldn't have lost a fortune if you had spent some more time on framing your plan of action before shooting off those letters.

To all industry leaders and head honchos out there. You might have to lay off people, you might have to retrench them; I don't say Don't do it, rather I say, GO Ahead!! Do It now. But do it in a humane way.

This is my request to all you HR managers and CEOs out there, when you retrench or lay people off do it, but follow these guidelines:

1) Retrenchment as a last resort: Sometimes, it is a better solution to propose a across the board pay cut to save jobs than to retrench multitudes. First cut off the fancy office, give up the company car, stop those small expenses everyday. Send a message to the workers that you are serious about cost cutting

2) Lead from the front: Not in the Shady way that Jet has done it. Look at the employees in the face. Tell them that we are facing a problem. We need to let people go. And tell them they will be welcome back when things improve. Then lay-off, retrench people fast. Within a few hours of making your announcement. Don't let people find out when they are ready to go to work and the cab doesn't turn up

3) Provide support: What prevents you from providing support to the retreched employees to obtain another employment? They deserve it from you

4) Don't hide behind closed doors: Walk around. Be available to the employees. They have doubts. They have questions. They are shocked. Now is not the time to retire to your castle. Be with them

5) Once and for all: Don't retrench 50 people today, then another 100 tomorrow and so on. This creates tremendous insecurity among people who survive. Once you are done with removing your excess employees, assure the rest that you are not going to fire them. They will be forming your core group on which you will build your future.

Well, one long post. But then this is the time when we all do a reality check. And ensure that we are ready to go back to school and pick up more skills that would be valuable in this market.

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