Employee relations climate in leather industry in Kolkata.

AuthorBose, Indranil


Employer and employee relations constitute one of the most delicate and complex problems of the modern industrial society with growing prosperity and rising wages. Workers have gained higher living wages, more education, sophistication and generally greater career mobility as growing numbers of population have been compelled to leave the farms and become wage earners under industrial conditions. The Hawthorne studies conclusively showed that normal interactions of workers at work always create a social network called 'informal organization', which exerts tremendous influence over pattern of workers behavior. The study highlighted the need for an understanding of the social aspects of work performance, etc.

Theoretical Perspective

Employee relation practices that meet organizational objectives and employee needs result in a high quality of work life. Employee relations activities are shared with supervisors because of the growing complexity of organization laws and union management relations. There are several variables that directly affect employee relations through communications, counseling and disciplinary practices.

Three main schools of thought can be identified on the issue. Those arguing for 'employee involvement' for example, view it as 'the means to harness the talents and cooperation of the workforce in the common interests they share with management' (Cascio, 1998). This has been an approach based on managerial point of view, which aims at retaining the established authority structure of enterprises using systematic methods of communication, information and consultation with subordinates. Those supporting 'industrial democracy' aspect have argued largely from trade union point of view. Their aim is to sharing managerial power in enterprises by strengthening trade union organization and by widening the scope of collective bargaining (Michael, 1996). The third major approach, that of 'worker participation', aims at changing the basic authority structure of business enterprises by legislating for employee representatives on company boards as practiced in some west European countries. However, it should not be confused with "producer cooperation', which aims at worker control of enterprises through worker co-ownership and self-management (Harper, 1987).

Labor Scenario in Kolkata's Leather Industry

West Bengal's leather industry employs over 200,000 people (Department of Labor, Government of West Bengal, 2010). Working conditions in the tanneries and leather manufacturing units in West Bengal are generally appalling except in the case of very few units like Bata, Khadims etc. There is scant regard for workers' safety or health. However, with the shifting of large number of leather industry organizations to newly built Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC) near Bantala, which is spread over across 1100 acres of land with all modern infrastructure and technical amenities about 50000 directly employed workers and about 150000 indirectly dependent workforce are enjoying better working conditions than their counterparts working in traditional concentrations (Kashyap, 1997). Though the traditional leather units of Kolkata is dominated by low caste and Muslim migrant workers from the neighboring states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Eastern Uttar Pradesh, the entry of people from different backgrounds is growingly visible in the sector (Kashyap, 1997). Moreover about 70% of the workers engaged in the industry are traditionally employed as casual workers. Most of them join the industry as workers with very low or no skill and they acquire required skills simply by observation at the initial stages. Very often these low skilled new entrants to the sector acquire skill under the guidance of their relatives or somebody from their places of origin, also employed as worker in a leather unit in Kolkata. They are the people, who actually bring these very cheap workers from their villages to enable them to learn the required skills at the place of their employment. Initially, these newly inducted workers are either paid very minimum or no wage and are only provided with the opportunity to learn new skills for the industry and then these people are either given jobs at the same place or they themselves search employment in other units. However, the labor market is flexible and intensively competitive and mostly paid on the piece rate basis. Abundant...

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