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THE STATE OF THE UNION


Jamshyd N. Godrej, Chairman and Managing Director, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd., receiving a citation on being conferred the Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India from Bhalchandra Joshi, President, GBSS, and Nagendra Singh, General Secretary, GBSS, at a silver jubilee function of the Union.

 

Ch. You joined the Godrej & Boyce Shramik Sangh (GBSS) a decade ago. What made you join the Union in the first place?
Joshi.
The company in which I served before joining Godrej was affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). Although the method of working was substantially good, the management rarely compromised with the Union. They did not take into consideration most of the proposals put forth by the Union. Most of the proposals in favour of workers were overlooked. The company continued to function for a period of time and later it was closed down. At this time I started working with Godrej and joined the union.

When I came in contact with the GBSS, I was overwhelmed by the rapport the Management and the Union shared. I was never under any pressure. I got an opportunity to work under an efficient Union leader, J.B. Chavan, and I feel proud about it. His guidance was of great value to me.

 

Ch. What is the basic manifesto of the GBSS? How far has this manifesto been successful?
Joshi.
On 19 May, 1978, the day the Union was formed, the basic manifesto was that external political forces should not influence our working. Similarly, external circumstances should not hamper the working of our Company. I feel we have achieved these aims successfully. An ideal example is that even today, a number of people work under one Union keeping their identity intact. They do not work under any pressure nor are there any differences in opinions. Each member plays an important role in decision-making. The credit for the existence of the Union goes to Nagendra Singh. It is not a one-man show, but a team effort.

 

Ch. The biggest issue facing the Committee was that of the canteen. Could you please shed more light on this? How did you solve this problem?
Singh.
In 1986 the Union decided to solve this problem because, earlier, the canteen did not have the facility of drinking water and fans. The conditions were such that a few lucky ones ate to their heartís content and the rest were left empty-stomached. When I visited the Taloja Plant, I was astonished to see that the owner and the employees were served the same food. I thought if the same were to happen in our Company, it would be well appreciated by the workers. The Union approached the Managing Committee and put forth this issue. Taking all the problems into consideration, the buffet system began in the Companyís canteen. Along with this, light music was also played in the canteen.

 

Ch. You are the General Secretary of the GBSS and joined the Sangh in 1978. Who sent you for training at the Kamgar Shikshak Sangh Union in 1987? What did you learn?
Singh.
The Union sent me for training at the Kamgar Shikshak Sangh in 1987. Kerse Naoroji guided the Union. He was a good decision-maker and had a vision. He felt that if his workers were well trained, the Union as well as the Company would reap benefits. This is the reason he chose to send me. I got a chance to visit companies such as Cadbury (Thane), Raymond (Thane), Bimal Reliance (Ahmedabad), Tata (Jamshedpur), Hindustan Heavy Electric, and I learnt a lot from this experience. I learnt how to run the Union, the level of leadership required, how to take decisions at the right time, how workers can be benefited, etc. I made full use of this training in the functioning of the GBSS. Improvements keep taking place and will take place in the future also. This will be my continued effort as General Secretary of the Sangh.

 

Ch. Could you please shed some more light on the GBSSís early years?
Singh.
In 1978 when the GBSS was formed, industries faced many problems. It was difficult to say when a movement would begin or when there would be a lockout. The workers were agitated and they joined these movements thereby choosing the wrong path. During the Companyís lifespan, there have been instances when leaders have made use of the workersí strength to gain political power for their own selfish interests. Later, the workers began to realise that this exploitation had to stop and that they needed to take the initiative. This decision was taken by the workers themselves. This decision surely must be noted in the history of Godrej and Iím proud to say that the GBSS is working unitedly as one strong unit.

 

Ch. What are the other problems the Sangh has faced and successfully solved? How did you go about solving them? Any failures?
Joshi.
If an employee or any member of his family has a major illness, then it becomes difficult for him to manage the hospital bills due to financial problems. Keeping this in mind, the Union decided that there needs to be a way out. We concluded that a Joint Insurance Policy would be a good option. According to this policy, along with the worker, three other members of his family would benefit. This policy would cover previous illnesses, too. The amount decided was Rs. 1,70,000. Today, many companies on the Thane-Belapur road have shut down due to economic crises. In such situations, I consider it fortunate that Godrej Company and the Union could make successful decisions.

As we climbed the ladder of success, we had to face some obstacles. While solving the canteen problem, we needed to look into the problem of non-vegetarian food. It so happened that the Management decided to stop serving non-vegetarian food. However, the Union didnít agree and felt that it was their right to eat non-veg. The matter was dragged to Court. We lost the battle as the Court decided that since we are provided food at such subsidised rates, we should not mind eating only vegetarian food. GBSS compromised with the Management. Not only that, thereafter we also cooperated with the Management when lunch rates were increased gradually from 95 paise to Rs. 3 to Rs. 5 and now to Rs. 8 per lunch. I feel that whatever happens, happens for the best because, based on this judgement, even the union of Voltas Ltd. had to abide by the Courtís decision.

Today, Godrej is functioning because of the generosity of Jamshyd Godrej. He has continued the generous attitude of his ancestors. He never hides any issues from the Union. He always believes in total democracy and that is his greatness. According to him, the consumer decides the fate of the Company.

Every Union member works selflessly. During national crises like the Morvi flood in Gujarat and the Latur earthquake in Maharashtra, the Union made a donation of Rs. 5 lakhs from its own funds immediately. The Union also made a handsome contribution of Rs. 25 lakhs each in the construction of the Godrej Memorial Hospital and the Pirojshanagar Sanskrutik Sabhagrah, the community hall. This was a unanimous decision and it was accounted for in the same month. It is due to the continuous cooperation of the workers that the Union achieved success.

 

Ch. What are the GBSSís goals? How far do you think you succeeded in achieving these goals? How long will it take?
Joshi. There are changes all over the world and we expect the workers to change with the times. It becomes difficult to explain this to the workers. This has created a vacuum. It is difficult to remove this inferiority complex from them totally. We still believe that we can achieve this in the coming years because the Unionís aim is to keep each personís job intact and the workers should progress along with the Company.

 

Ch. When did you join the Managing Committee of the GBSS? Please tell us the difference between the Central Works Committee and the Managing Committee.
Joshi.
I joined the Managing Committee three years ago. It comprises 41 members out of which nine are office bearers and the other 32 members are selected from different Plants and Departments. This Committee solves every problem unanimously and every member of the Committee is responsible for achieving results. It is compulsory for the nine office bearers to get the sanction of the Managing Committee. Only after taking due sanction, the decision is implemented.

Every Plant has a Works Committee. A representative is elected as Vice Chairman. The Vice Chairmen of all Plants come together to form the Central Works Committee. One Vice Chairman and Joint Secretary is chosen from the Central Works Committee. The Central Works Committee looks after the functioning and solves disputes through negotiations.

The main difference between the two is that while the Managing Committee is like a steering committee that decides upon the policies of the Union and holds negotiations with the Management, the Central Works Committee deals with day-to-day matters such as ventilation, fans, toilets, cleanliness, etc.


Union officials giving a warm welcome to Jamshyd N. Godrej, Pheroza Godrej and Raika Godrej at the concluding session of the Unionís silver jubilee celebrations.

 

Ch. How did you rise so soon to become President of the GBSS?
Joshi.
It so happened that the position of Treasurer was vacant. With the help of other members, I took over this position. I got a golden opportunity after two years to become President and once again I took charge. I attribute this success to other Committee members.

 

Ch. What are your specific achievements as the leader of the GBSS?
Joshi.
The year 2002-2003 was the silver jubilee year. I can say that our efforts have paid off and there have been no such instances that spoilt our efforts. We felicitated our honourable working members, conducted blood donation camps, cricket matches were organised, eye check-up camps were held, and I wish to continue this good work.

 

Ch. Any anecdotes about the Management or Godrej family members?
Singh.
Our late Navalseth made a lion-hearted contribution to the foundation of the GBSS. Similarly, Kerse Naoroji also supported us. Within two years the Union received so much public support that its fame increased considerably! Apart from this, E.J. Kalwachia supported us. Iíve never come across a person as humane as him. He never spoke about exploitation. He continued the generous attitude of our Company.

 

Ch. Were you ever in touch with Kerse Naoroji? What was it like working with him?
Singh.
I was in the Works Committee for two years. I learnt a lot working under J.B. Chavan, Bhagwan Angane and Mahesh Mehta. These people laid the foundation stone of the GBSS. Kerse Naoroji is a farsighted man. He is a keen observer. He never wasted time in taking a decision. It was his decision to train workers. He used to be present on the concluding day of the seven-day training programme, entitled ďLabour Management Development ProgrammeĒ, approved by the Kamgar Prashikshan Kendra, part of the Labour Welfare Department of the State Government of Maharashtra. Naoroji also listened to queries raised by workers and supervised follow-ups.

 

Ch. With so much of VRS and cost-cutting going on, how do you as GBSS President plan to sustain the factories?
Joshi. When VRS and cost-cutting began, there were discussions at various levels with workers. After the settlement in 1999, the changes that happened were explained to the workers. They were told about the benefits of achieving more than cent per cent production for the Company and for themselves. They were taught how to work on different machines at the same time. Today, a Godrej worker handles many machines and is familiar with many skills. The Company has many automatic machines. The Company is functioning smoothly because of the flexibility shown by the workers. All the credit goes to them.

 

Ch. How did you go about changing the mindsets of workers, explaining to them that a change in work culture, method and increase in production would benefit the Company and thereby the workers?
Joshi.
As I said earlier, from time to time we guided our workers. They have been trained to work on new machines. They have been made aware of the competition existing in the outside market and the changes that were needed at various levels to survive. They understood this.

 

Ch. How are relations between the Management and the GBSS? What are your expectations from the Management and vice versa? How far will the Sangh go to fulfil those expectations?
Joshi.
There was a time when the Union was there to put forth the demands of the workers and if they were not agreed upon, the Union could protest, but today the situation has changed. The worker movement has come to an end. The Companyís expectations have risen. The Godrej Management has healthy relations with the Union. To give you an example, on 23 January, 2001, the Company suffered a loss of Rs. 7 crores due to an ugly incident. Temporary workmen, affiliated to an external union, were misguided. During their break period, they barged into the Companyís premises. They destroyed the refrigerator assembly line, damaged refrigerators, computers, two-wheelers and four-wheelers that were parked in the premises, broke cabin glasses and damaged a lot of other Company property. Yet the Godrej Management kept calm. Had it been some other management, there would have been every chance of a lockout. The next day work began from the first shift. The Company didnít want the workers or itself to suffer any losses. The workers, too, realised that this occurred due to an external force because no worker would destroy his own creation. The patience shown by the workers, too, is noteworthy.

 

Ch. Who was President of the GBSS when you joined the Sangh in 1978? Naval Godrej was stabbed a year later. What was your reaction as a new recruit of the GBSS?
Singh.
During that period, Datta Samant was the Union leader. There were a lot of misunderstandings among people. The workers, too, were agitated. They held a morcha at the Azad Maidan. It was a critical situation. At the same time, the stabbing incident occurred. I felt hurt. The man who provides us with food being stabbed! This was not acceptable to the workers. The workers, too, learnt a lesson from this.


Bhalchandra Joshi, President, GBSS, addressing workers during the 25th Annual General Meeting of the Sangh. Seated on the dais are Sangh officials (from left): Rambali Yadav and Tukaram Surve (Joint Secretaries), Chandrakant Pawar (Treasurer), Z.G. Khan (Vice President), Nagendra Singh (General Secretary), Dattaram Haldankar (Joint Secretary) and Mohan Sawant (Vice President).

 

Ch. When did you join the Company and as what? What is your position in the Company today?
Joshi.
I joined the Company as a grinder machinist. Today, I look after tools and cutter jobs.

 

Ch. With so many GBSS activities, do you think you could have concentrated on your work better had you not joined the Sangh?
Joshi.
My job requires skill. It is important to constantly practise my skill. If not, I can lose touch. I feel that continuing my GBSS activities will necessitate my learning new skills to keep up with the times. Iím proud that I am in a position to serve the employees of this Company.

 

Ch. What is the future of the GBSS and the future of the Company, according to you?
Joshi.
Now, there is no influence of external politics. If the Union is supported by the Management, if the workers change with changing times and E.J. Kalwachia continues to guide us, then I can confidently say that the GBSS and the Management will have a bright future.

 

Ch. Is there anything else you would like to add on behalf of the Sangh?
Pawar.
There was a time when there were movements in the country, but now it is not so. Our rights should not be exploited, but they must be protected. I have a strong desire that we must run GBSS like a Trade Union, too. The media should focus on the ďGodrej formulaĒ and the productivity of the Company should increase. On behalf of all the workers of Godrej, I wish their employment should continue. For the past 25 years the Company has been functioning in a peaceful manner. Other companies need to follow our example as it can lead them to a brighter future.