Industrial relations are the relationships between employees and employers and Industrial progress is impossible without harmonious relationships between employers and employees. Good Industrial relations reduce the industrial disputes and ensures continuity of production. To understand Industrial Relations in today’s world, we have with us Vikas Shirodkar, an experienced and senior HR leader. Vikas is sharing his views with us on transformation of Industrial Relations and its relevance in today’s scenario.

Vikas Shirodkar has over 34 years of experience as an HR/IR Professional and has worked with companies like HCL, Siemens, Atul Products, Johnson & Johnson and Onida. His last assignment was Vice President –HR at General Motors. Presently he is part of Basil HR Advisory,a boutique HR consultancy and also Professor Emeritus with MET Institute of Management. He coauthored a book Foundational Skills for Budding Professionals (published in Sept 2015). He has been awarded for “Innovative HR Practices that drive Business Results” National recognition by former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam.

Q-What is the relevance of Industrial relations in today’s world?

IR actually never lost its relevance. HR became more fashionable to speak about and people actually forgot about IR. This is perilous for a manufacturing base company as people passing out from colleges stopped learning IR skills while the need for IR was always there. Today even IT companies and Service companies
like Big Bazar, Hypercity, Shoppers Stop (retail), Amazon or Flipkart (supply chain end) have large employee strengths and need to be handled as a group. Their issues are common. So IR skills and approaches are becoming all the more relevant.

Q-In this changing world, as HR is progressed from Welfare Officer to HR strategic business partner, how the IR has evolved with time?

IR was always a business partner for all managements. If industrial peace and shopfloor management was not smooth companies suffered. Large companies like Tata Motors Pune or Phillips Loni or Mukund on Thane Belapur road are cases in point. L&T faced its own challenges in Powai. Public sector organizations like ONGC
and IPCL have battled with multiple unionism and the challenges of managing that for long. Look at all our nationally owned Steel mills. IR thus is critical to the lifeblood and smooth operation of any company. So I would not say evolved but would say IR has now got its rightful place in the HR/Personnel pantheon.

Q- What are the silent features of Industrial relations?

Employee Relationship Management. This will make a critical impact on an organization’s ability to fulfill the client’s requirements. IR can be best managed if we have deep and personal relations with the workforce and understand that
while Unions are important: our true “customers” for the HR department are employees; and NOT the union committee. When we develop and leverage this understanding great business results and working relationships flourish.

Q-What are the determinants of Industrial relations?

All companies operate in a field created by the technology which the company works with. Government and Labour Laws of the land set a context for IR. The Government machinery Labour Commisionerate and the Compliance teams for Factory; Safety Health and Environment; benefit administrators under Min
Wages Act PF ESIC etc are all critical players. However for day to day IR the workforce; HR/IR departments; Company Managements and the Unions are the key actors/players in the unfolding of the IR drama.

Q-What is the Model Grievances Procedure?

Simply put a formal methodology of raising a grievance/dispute with in a structured system with time lines defined for resolution/feedback on issues raised. This is Model Grievance Procedure. Different companies handle this in different ways.

Q-What is the role of the government in promoting Industrial Relations?

Government sets the context by the labour laws that it enacts. On the ground any unresolved issues or disputes which managements and unions cannot resolve also have a parallel structure of Labour Commisioner wherein the LC can intervene
in any dispute with a focus to work for reconciliation and resolution. The mechanism it provides is like a safety valve on the pressure cooker of IR. Unfortunately today the LC has become a pressure tactic by either party to force table discussions rather
than being a real reconciliation and resolution mechanism it was meant to be.

Q-What are the causes of manifestation and effects of Industrial disputes?

Industrial disputes are a reflection of the breakdown of the communication and relationship between the management and the union and/or workmen. When the disputes either of the individual worker or of the collective group of workmen is not
resolved and then reaches a flashpoint it is called an industrial dispute. Point to be noted here is that even an individual or a group of workmen – whether represented by their union or not – can raise an industrial dispute. The Government has a machinery for dispute resolution: the Labour Commissioner’s office is supposed to mediate and resolve the issue when management and workmen/union are not able to resolve it themselves. However proactive and efficient managments do not allow the grievance to reach this stage. It is much better to try and negotiate and resolve
the disputes/differences by themselves as once it reaches the Governmental machinery the solution may take a turn for which neither party was ready. Since we as management and unions/ workmen are internal parties and closest to the dispute it is better to strengthen negotiations and arrive at an internal resolution of
any dispute. Industrial disputes end up making both parties take extreme positions and so this open declaration of hostilities is to be avoided as far as possible.

Q-Do you think IR is losing its value with time?

IR will never lose its value. Good IR is going to the root of the human relations which will determine how the employees are engaged and committed to the goals of the organization. In fact IR and HR are 2 sides of the same coin. If a management handles it’s people well and is proactive in dispute resolution the situation need not reach the extreme stage of strikes/lockouts. Negotiated settlements ensure peace and productivity at the shop floor and thus should always be encouraged.

If HR policies and practices are forward looking and employee friendly then IR issues will not surface at all.


On the other hand if IR is handled well in an organization HR activities and change initiatives become smooth and easier to implement. Good companies and progressive unions are today thinking not in terms of IR and/or HR but of ERM : Employee Relations Management. ERM is the true role and key activity of all managers in the company. It is not something that only HR or IR people need to do. ERM is the key responsibility of every manager in the company. If every manager handles his employees well and practices right ERM approach IR
and HR will become irrelevant as separate activities. Finally it is all about how employees are dealt with; aligned to the company; and motivated to perform to their true potential that differentiates a successful organization from an “also ran” company.

Q-Is it true that corporate HR jobs are taking advantages on IR jobs with changing time?

With the advent of Services and IT and BFSI sectors HR became more of  Recruitment and talent management. Newer concepts like Competency Management; Career Planning: etc took precedence. HR by nature had to sit with Sales and Marketing teams and Corporate Management. On the other hand IR had
to be at the factory where the real action was happening and being close to the fire and on the ground. Hence in Management Committees and Corporate structure HR has got more public eye than IR. However IR is critical function to ensure continuity of the organization as the production and manufacturing is really the start of the value chain in a company.

Thank you Vikas!


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