Monday, October 10, 2011

The Future of White - Collar Unionization


There have been recent events in India, where professionals have resorted to unionization to stop work, thereby affecting their organization financially and impacting its reputation. The first people to oppose such actions by highly paid professionals should be the blue collared and low wage workers union: they lose credibility to raise their voice for genuine demands because the action of professionals leaves a bad impression amongst the masses. The common man loses sympathy for striking workers irrespective of whether he is a lowly paid worker or a highly paid professional.

Times are changing. There is a power shift happening; the evolving free market scenario is empowering the consumer. The consumer is becoming demanding and less tolerant towards the provider not meeting their expectations.

With all the ranting about ills of a free-market economy, there is an undeniable truth: a free market economy provides immense opportunity to unleash creative energies of people in its system. A free market economy also empowers consumers: consumer wrath becomes 'the invisible hand' which brings equilibrium in a disturbed situation. Impediments to consumer satisfaction are razed down by the power of consumer will. One such impediment is a Union.

In a unionized environment, everybody is a loser. Consumers are biggest losers as they do not receive best services. Organizations lose image due to collective irresponsible behaviour of the employees. Sincere employees feel disgruntled in this work culture where colleagues are not oriented towards quality work. More importantly, the per capita productivity of the country gets affected due to inefficiency.

A bad experience due to unionization rings in my mind. Case in point is a reputed hospital in South Mumbai. Having been prescribed a set of pathology tests, I went to the pathology department, only to find a very lackadaisical attitude (may I say a public sector kind of environment) and people engrossed in their own chatter, with absolutely no regard for hassled customers queuing up to seek either information or reports. Take note, these are supposedly 'white collar' workers. Their union is affiliated to a political party and is notorious for arm-twisting. The hospital has faced a strike by its workers earlier.

Immediately, I went to another nearby hospital, where all services except nursing and administration have been outsourced. When I went to meet the doctor with the report, I narrated the incident; only to realize that he too felt bad about the unionization in the hospital and how unionized workers sometime threaten even doctors themselves!

While the continuous urge to satisfy consumer demand puts pressure on corporates to undermine the interests of its employees, it is only blue collared or low wage workers who have a justification to form a collective and bargain with management for their rights. One can understand that at the lower end of the worker chain, workers need to form a Union to stand up and fight for their rights. However, highly paid professionals, with immense opportunities to shift jobs too getting into the unionizing mode becomes a cause for concern.

As mentioned earlier, in a unionized environment, everybody, ultimately, is a loser. To me, unionisation leads to a sense of complacency amongst the workforce. Organizations lose their thirst to be competitive and innovative; affecting their competitivness, growth and ability to provide greater employment opportunities in the market place.

Unions need to learn a lesson from political parties. The last time a 'bandh' (strike) call was given in Mumbai was years back. When the courts levied a heavy fine on the political outfit for calling a 'bandh' (strike), no party dared to call a 'bandh' (strike) after that incident. White-collared union's arm-twisting might meet the same fate.