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Supporting workers

November 13, 2018

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The writer is an industrial relations professional.
The writer is an industrial relations professional.

IN the majority of enterprises operating in Pakistan, employees are divided into two categories: management and non-management. While management employees are governed by separate terms and conditions of employment formulated by the company, non-management employees are mostly covered by labour laws and represented by their labour unions.

Improvements in terms of employment of the former depend upon management discretion, while those of the latter are periodically negotiated by the Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA) union. Despite this scenario, there is a vast difference in the monthly salaries, benefits and perquisites of management employees, which are usually quite attractive in comparison to those given to unionised employees.

During a recent interaction with two well-known industrial undertakings in Karachi, I was surprised to find that the average gross salaries of their moderately skilled workers ranged between Rs15,000 to Rs20,000 per month. These are on the lower side; in comparison the existing minimum wage for unskilled workers in Sindh is Rs16,200. One of these two companies has been resisting the formation of a trade union while the other has two unions, one of which is the CBA.

It appears surprising that despite having a CBA, which negotiates with management, wage levels in the two companies are the same. So, what has the CBA gained by negotiating its demands with the management? It has achieved through bargaining benefits and perks, which are quite gracious, such as bonuses, incentive schemes, ­interest-free loans and a lot more.

Efforts to help employees may go beyond an organisation’s domain.

Nevertheless, there are other companies where wage levels and monthly take-home salaries are three to four times higher. What emerges from the vast difference of emoluments among the two classes of employees within the same establishment is that the management, which supervises the workers, should also have empathy for employees’ personal hardships and challenging living conditions.

Efforts to improve industrial relations may not remain confined to the office or factory premises but may extend beyond the organisation’s domain, which is encapsulated in the following instance: the wife of one of our employees in the maintenance department, who has six children, divorced him in 2013 and went to live with her new husband, along with two minor children. For meeting their expenses, she obtained a decree from the family court in Malir whereby one-fourth of our employee’s ­salary was attached.

On direction from the court, we would make the said deduction from his salary and deposit it in court every month. Drawing a meagre salary, the employee came under financial stress as a big chunk would go to his ex-wife. This continued until recently, when the employee approached me and informed me that as the two children had grown older, he had reached a compromise with his ex-wife for the detachment of his salary.

Further, he said that although all the legal requirements of the compromise had been met by him through a lawyer, the court staff was not putting those documents before the judge. And therefore, he asked for help. I went to the court with him and inquired about the cause of delay. They came up with flimsy excuses but expedited the matter. Based on the court’s order, we detached the employee’s salary.

This is how an employee may be helped in an issue that may be of a personal nature but resolution would have a positive impact on job performance. Similarly, employees indulging in excessive absenteeism may also be assisted if the cause is explored by their manager and addressed, if possible. I know a few managers who regularly help employees facing financial difficulties. It is not only a laudable gesture but also helps in boosting the employees’ morale.

Helping an employee through a crisis starts with listening to him with empathy. At some point, we all have a stressful life event that distracts us from work. It may be a family member’s illness, a strained marital relationship, entanglement in protracted litigation, or the death of a close friend. If any employee is going through a personal crisis, what can one do as a manager? If there is an atmosphere of compassion in the office, people are more likely to approach the manager when they are going through a tough period.

It is good to listen. An employee may just want sympathy and explain his difficulties in caring for a sick relative or an opportunity to explain how his marital break-up has affected productivity. Having empathy for employees and extending to them possible help not only brings in ­dividends to the organisation but also to the manager.

The writer is an industrial relations professional.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2018

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