Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Factory Tours

As many of my site visits have gone, my interviews and various interactions with employees regarding non-professional subject matters have been far more interesting than the differences in human resources and industrial relations practices I oberved between India and the U.S. However, I would like to start out with an excellent HR/IR related excerpt I scribbled down from their collective bargaining agreement:

"Terms of Settlement: Section 15.1.2
It is agreed that the distribution pattern of biscuits will be as follows in the table below:

Day Biscuit Grams
M Britannia Milk Bikis 100
T Parle Krackjack 75
W Duke's Marie Break 100
R Britannia 50:50 75
F Parle Krackjack 75
S Britannia Milk Bikis 100
Su Britannia 50:50 75 "

(What?! The same ol' crap Monday and Saturday! Wildcat striiike!!!)

even better:

"Section 15.1.5
It is agreed that for the 9:30 a.m. tea distribution and 2:30 a.m. tea distribution, milk will be supplied to workmen at shop-floor level. The quantity of the milk shall not exceed 125 ml."

Ah, good. 125 mls ought to keep the labor unrest down a bit. Anyway, we had an interesting conversation in the safety and health assurance meeting room, where conversation regarding demographics and records quickly spiraled into accounts of what American university which manager had a child currently attending. They then proceeded to detail their recent company trip to France, their only foray into the West, wherein I was quite surprised to hear the panel recount their encounter with Parisian "negroes" whereupon they were forced to "cling to their passports and wallets" in fear as they walked to the Eiffel Tower (this came up after my wallet-losing story). They all seemed to nod in unison at their concern for their passports, and asked if I had similar problems in NYC. I also was surprised they would have this stereotype as I have not seen, to date, a single sub-Saharan African-Indian in India- not even a tourist. Where besides the media would they even attain such a stereotype if there aren't any here?

My next strange conversation came in the human resource manager's office, where I was saying my goodbyes at the day's end. The manager had just remembered to call in the union officials for me to speak with them, so I sat back down for what I thought would be a quick discussion. However, six men poured in and we didn't leave for the next hour and a half- they asked nonstop questions about everything you could imagine. It started, as usual, with their fascination of the "love" marriage vs. "arranged" marriage differences, and the idea that you have a choice of who to be with, parents are not involved to an extent, independence is gained at age 18, etc. "90% of teenagers live with girlfriends or boyfriends... yes?" was the first one I got. I asked what reputable source this came from, turns out it was a local Tamil gossip paper, surprise. Next was our presidential race- "Who better, Obama, or... other guy?" This is indicative of current news coverage in India of the campaigning in the U.S.- every day there is a story on Obama's stance on "the N-Deal," his defense of comments on Spanish education in schools, his pledge to visit India upon gaining office... but not a single mention of McCain in newspaper or cable news networks. I was then asked about school shootings, just as in New Zealand ten years ago, as they think the schools are battlegrounds and wondered if I carried a weapon. Then, gas prices ("petrols per liter, how much?") and since I don't know conversion from liters to gallons, dollars to rupees, or if petrol is even the same chemical composition as gasoline and if they differ in the refining process, I answered "a whole bunch"). My favorite unsolicited comment came at the end, when questions appeared to be over and the HR manager made a pronouncement, emphasized with the stroke of his formidable moustache and a pound of his fist at the end of his opinion: "Mr. Greg (pronounced "Grikk"), one thing I do not like, unisex marriages, how you say, it is an abomination. Your nation are being disgraced and you must stop it." After assuring him I will surely put an end to this outrage upon my triumphant return to the states (I think the humor was lost on them?), my hand was shaken by all and I was invited to bring "my wife and all my children" to visit many years from now.

My host had a few other things to say as well, being able to laugh at his own culture. When I asked about vacation and holiday time, he explained that the factory works Mondays-Saturdays, but operating engineers and maintenance work Sundays as well. In general, it was hard to please everyone, because of the religious diversity in India and the differences in days of rest, summed up in his description of the nations rest schedule: "Christians... Sunday, day rest. Jews, Friday night, Saturday... Muslims, Friday. Hindus... every day."

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