Adieu To 2-hour Lunches, 1-hour Tea Breaks!

Updated: Nov 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
When earlier this year RK Singh was told to report at Paradeep in Orissa, he found the orders quite unsettling. An employee of the state-run Paradeep Phosphates (PPL) for eight years, he was working and living in Delhi.

He had to send his family back to his native Buxor in Bihar. The displacement was a bit annoying, but he also knew that the alternatives were positively terrifying. Apart from being a loss-making company, losing Rs 10-15 crore every month, PPL had failed to comply with environmental norms. The courts could have ordered its closure.

Then there was the news that PPL was being privatised - a prospect that had caused a great deal of anxiety among the entire staff. How would it be working for a lala

And PPL was privatised in February this year. Like other workers, Mr Singh was relieved when new managing director KK Gupta announced that there would be no retrenchment. As a quid pro quo, Mr Gupta made it clear that there would be redeployment. The workers accepted this, he says, adding, not a single manday has been lost because of strikes.

Redeployment, however, caused some inconveniences. But on the whole there was a feeling that at least their jobs were saved. Says a senior technical assistant SK Srivastava, we were apprehensive of harassment from the new owners. Such things have not happened. Adds another senior technical assistant AK Pradhan, work culture has improved.

Many workers and managers have told FE that there has been a sea change in the environment. People were used to come at their own convenience, and had two-hour lunches and an hour-long tea-breaks. Not that they did not want to work, or did not work, but there was little incentive to excel. Besides, the fact that the company had been doing badly for some time as a PSU had demoralised them. As an employee puts it, there was no motivation to work hard.

The takeover of PPL by Zuari Maroc Phosphates, a joint venture between the KK Birla group and OCP group, came as a sudden change.While there was no strike in the wake of privatisation, as it happened when Sterlite took over Balco early last year, there were misgivings and anxiety. The employees did not take the measures of the new management without resentments. It began with the issue of punching cards. But the management was able to overcome whatsoever resistance came up.

Then there was the issue of redeployment, causing considerable inconveniences. A number of employees were shifted to the marketing division, which was quite weak. One of them has told FE, the management had assured of no retrenchment. On our part, we had agreed to the idea of redeployment. After some training, I am able to work in this department, and my performance is seen as satisfactory. But, somehow, I do not have the security I had when the company was under the government.

RM Malik, vice president (operations), has reasons to be satisfied. We did not anticipate the turnaround to happen so fast. We have achieved targets in eight months that we had hoped to achieve it in more than a year. Plants which were running at 40 per cent capacity are running in full capacity now. And all this has been done just by putting the system in place. We havent made any drastic changes.

Better efficiency of the plant has removed the impression that workers were responsible for the problems, says Tapan Mahapatra, unit secretary of the PPL Staff Association. Corruption has gone down considerably, but it has not been eradicated, he adds.

Association working president Subendu Biswal says measures are being taken to improve safety at the plant.

The union leaders say though the condition of the company is improving, rewards for workers are not commensurate with the effort they are putting into making the turnaround a reality. There is also the complaint of multiplicity of authority, sometimes causing confusion in the functioning.

Employees as well their leaders are trying to adapt themselves to the new work environment - a private company, where good work is rewarded and inefficiency seldom tolerated. It takes time to settle down. Mr Singh has taken his. He is working as a cook at the company guest house at Paradeep. The infrastructure of the former PSU - a huge township, schools, community facilities - proved to be a pleasant surprise for him. Now, I plan to shift my family to Paradeep, he says.