Hi, iam working as HR Executive in a business concerns. Recently we are facing a drastic difficulties. our workers are gone illegal strike. As a HR i want to know how can i handle these. Our workers are very harsh . how i can build myself to handle such crisis.Hope for your kind reply
From Kazakhstan, Aktau
An HR person especially one who is a fresher cannot deal with such situations alone. Unless he is given a clear mandate about how to settle it, even a senior person in the IR (Industrial Relations) Department may not succeed in settling the disputes. Before going forward, we should also know how did you declare it as an illegal strike? Didn’t they give notice of strike? Is it that the demand is not genuine/ unreasonable or abnormally high when compared to the industry standards or the profitability of the company? Being an HR person we should have a perception about the workers’ attitude. They are not educated like we people nor they do not care for the consequences and therefore, very often they will react very harshly. It may not be due to their fault, may be due to our lack of communication or sometimes due to ill treatment or the general attitude of persons sitting in the Admin/ HR office.

I would say that even an HR head may not be a decision maker in many organisation. There may be exceptions in big Corporates but still he will have to satisfy his boss or the Board of Directors and in order to safeguard everyone’s interest he will wait for the approval from his Boss or the BOD to come. It is also true that if a strike/ dispute is not settled in time, the performance indicator of HR (IR person, especially) will come down drastically and sometimes he will be out of the company forever and at the same time, if he does it in time and builds up a cordial industrial relations within the organisation he may not get much recognition because at that point of time the actual owners will say that he did his duty for which he is paid and nothing special in it to honour him or will present the increase in the cost to company which has been incurred additionally in order to settle the dispute. In all these cases the HR is only a facilitator and not a final decision maker.

Being an IR person you should first of all drop the feeling that you are responsible for all these problems in the organisation or you are the only one to settle it. You should also think whether the strike is genuine one or not and then take a positive call from both the side, ie from the workmen’s perception and from the employer’s perception. If you do this exercise you will find where you have to act and mediate. You can call the workers’ representatives and study what they really want. Then you can present it before the management. The management will never accept it but will give you at least a mandate as to how to take it forward. Now the table is set for discussion and in the initial two or three discussions you can directly discuss with them and then starting adding more persons like Directors. In the meanwhile you can declare that the strike should be called off immediately in order to go further with meetings. Each meeting should be promising, or should give the workers a feeling that their demands are being considered. This will mitigate the fire in them and when you present the Managing Director in to the meeting they will get relaxed and be ready for a compromise.

Another way of dealing with the situation is to write to Labour Officials to intervene and call for a conciliation. Though the Conciliation Officers do not have authority to instruct, that will be a good platform for discussion. There also, you can start discussion by yourself and then gradually call the decision making authorities.

Without the assistance of heads of other functions, HR cannot settle general dispute related to workers which are raised collectively through a trade union. If your organisation thinks that this is the KRA of HR person and he should do it by himself, it is wrong. Just like other departments need the help of HR for recruiting people, retaining people and dismissing people, the HR department would also need their help in such situations.


From India, Kannur
Dear friend,

Mr.Madhu has dealt in detail about the difficulties always faced by any person including the HR dealing with an IR situation culminated in an illegal strike or a wild cat strike or even a legal strike by workmen. In the first place, Industrial Relations is a complex subject-matter and its effective handling depends upon the concerned manager's thorough understanding of Industrial Psychology, Labour Laws, Management's IR Policy, Company's financial position, the genuineness of the demands raised and the factual circumstances leading to the strike, the timing of the strike, necessary negotiation techniques etc. Like as aptly said by Madhu that sense of defeat is always imminent if you attach too much of importance to your role-play. An effective IR Expert's role should be that of a buffer between the parties in conflict. Otherwise sooner or later it will become a thankless job. Let me narrate an anecdote in this connection:

In the early 1950s,the General Manager of a big textile mill in the southern part of TamilNadu was given a free-hand to deal with the issue of revision of wages of the workmen with the caveat of protecting the financial commitments of the company. So he took a tough stand in the negotiations and put forth a counter-demand of proportionate hike in the work load without accepting the reasonable suggestion of the union to upgrade the plant and machinery which eventually led to a long-lasting strike and violence resulting in the dismissal of some 30 workmen who happened to be the union office-bearers. Situation worsened to lock-out consequent on the illegal strike. However, after some months a settlement was forged out regarding wage-revision and normalcy restored at the intervention of the State Government. But the GM influenced the Management and rejected the truce of taking back the dismissed workmen. Therefore, the issue of dismissal of the 30 workmen was referred for adjudication. It took almost 10 years and some time in the middle of 1961, an award was passed ordering reinstatement of all the 30 dismissed workmen ( some of them died in the mean time ) with back-wages, continuity of service and all attendant benefits. The next day morning when the GM's car entered the main gate of the mills as usual, unusually the gate was not opened wide but a security guard came out and handed over an envelope to the GM seated on the rear and another to the driver. No sooner than the GM started opening the cover, the driver got down, opened the rear door and politely told the GM to get down forthwith so that he can move the car inside the mills as per the instructions given to him and placed down the GM's lunch box on the side of the road. By the same time a procession of the reinstated workmen was slowly approaching the gate.

So, always try to be sincere and tactful in bringing out the gravity of the situation to the attention of both the management and the workmen at variance so that the tension of conflict subsides and good sense prevails on both to reach an amicable solution on their own.

From India, Salem
Both Mr. Madhuji and Umakanthanji have very candidly expressed their views which are very useful and guiding to all HR/IR people. There is hardly anything left to add in their posts.
But I just feel different when and why the freshers overlook to provide some vital information when they need some advice from forum?
Here in this case, the original post contains many things but it fails to inform us what was the burning issue due to which workers called their strike. This vital information is totally missing. He also missed to let us know what management made efforts to solve the issue and to avoid the strike.
It is my experience, that many IR/HR people just shrug their shoulders and tell me that strike in a factory is not an IR/HR problem. It is problem of Legal Section/Department and so their department has nothing to do with strike.
I think I have not come across a better joke than this.

From India, Kolhapur

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