Labour Dept. insists on strong employee – employer relationships for industrial peace


by Sanath Nanayakkare

In the past, Inspectors of the Labour Department visiting and checking business establishments was perceived as a ‘raid’, and now it’s time to have a break in this perception and promote mutual understanding between employers and employees over the direction industrial relations should go beyond the existing labour laws, the Labour Department said on Tuesday.

It is worth thinking about the combined contribution of both employers and employees because there is a lot of rationale for developing good industrial relations and creating a great work place to significantly boost employees’ job prospects and employers’ earning prospects, they said.

W.P. Nimal Weerasinghe, Labour Officer, Human Resources Development Division of the Department of Labour made these comment on Tuesday while speaking at an awareness session titled ‘Social Dialogue and Workplace Cooperation’, organised by the Chamber Academy of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“Human resource is an asset and not a liability for any institution and both employers and employees should have positive attitudes towards each other to promote industrial peace and create a win-win situation for both parties without letting the work force to become a headache for the institution,” he said.

Addressing the audience consisting of managers of various businesses represented by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the expert in labour relations and resolving labour disputes further said:

“There shouldn’t be a disconnect between the employers and employees. However, at times when workers fight for their rights, they might decide to go on strike. And employers might decide to shut the institution to prevent strikes from happening in the premises. Such a situation could lead to a stoppage of production or service and cause negative results for both employers and employees.”

“Frederick Taylor (1856 -1915) best known for his principles of scientific management, said,” Workers are naturally lazy, due to a range of reasons of being unmotivated and finding work boring. So assign them work, guide, help, and encourage and get them to do the job.”

“In contrast, Elton Mayo (1880 – 1949) industrial researcher and organisational theorist said,” Managers can increase productivity by placing trust in the employees to work independently with the least supervision. I’d like to ask as managers how do you view these two points of view? If you give workers the freedom, will they do the work as expected of them? Do they have to be consistently managed and supervised? Managers should let conscientious workers work independently and indifferent workers to work under supervision. But you might have a problem if you try to supervise conscientious workers and let indifferent workers to work independently. In this context, the Labour Department would like to put the more neutral Japanese 5S Methodology in between these two theories. According to Japanese 5S, a good manager is invisible because he or she is not only leading but also working with their team to achieve the set goals and targets. So, you must have the ability to distinguish these characteristics in the work place and produce the best results for your employers, employees and your organisation. Managers have to play a hybrid role of a decision maker and an employee. So you need to strike the right balance between these very difficult dynamics. If you can achieve that, your labour force won’t turn out to be a headache, instead they will become a real asset to your organisation.”

G. W. N. Viraji, Labour Commissioner said that both employees and employers must not be swayed by emotions when they deal with an industrial issue.

“You need to look at each other’s perspective with empathy. You need to listen to each other and cooperate to resolve the issues together and move forward.”

She highlighted the fact that both parties should honestly consider who has actually caused the problem on the basis that ‘sometimes you are the problem’ and own up to your commitments and accountabilities without placing the blame on the other.”

P.A.S.C Pathiraja, Assistant Commissioner of Labour also made a presentation at the webinar and cleared many concerns of the participants about industrial issues at the Q and A.

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