The Telegraph
Thursday , November 1 , 2012
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Charged chatter in HR rooms

Haldia, Oct. 31: Digital traffic between site offices in Haldia and corporate headquarters outside Bengal has multiplied in the past few days. Not because of a sudden surge in business but because of security concerns triggered by the HBT crisis.

“During morning conference calls with bosses in head offices, the most important issue is safety and security of our staff in Haldia. The usual topic of discussion like production targets and performance in plants is no longer the priority,” said a senior official of a company with its headquarters in Mumbai.

He did not want either himself or his company named in this article, citing fears of a backlash.

“The focus has shifted from plan level efficiency to the general law-and-order situation in Haldia as the human resource (HR) departments are flooding us with queries on safety and security arrangements for our staff,” said the official.

This correspondent was in the room of a senior official of another company when the official of another Haldia-based firm called him on Tuesday. The official who received the call put the phone in loudspeaker mode to illustrate the same point he had made earlier.

Receiver: Ah, yes. Tell me, tell me…

Caller: What’s happening, sir? Now it’s abduction of executives like us. Read in newspapers that one of them had sent an SMS saying he was leaving Haldia. Have you read it?

Receiver: Yes, I read it…. But why should one send any SMS to say he was leaving Haldia on his own. That’s strange. Isn’t it?

Caller: Really, sir. It is very scary… If police don’t take any action, what will we do?

Receiver: We can do very little…. I don’t think such an incident has ever happened in Haldia.

Caller: We held a meeting this morning and told the HoDs (heads of department) to be cautious and keep handy the telephone number of all the senior executives of the company. Keeping the numbers of the police won’t help as they can’t act even if they wish to…. That’s why we have told the staff that in case of an emergency situation, ‘call up your colleagues and don’t waste time calling the police’.

Receiver: That’s the most we can do….

Caller: I think we should come together and raise our concerns in a forum… discuss the safety of the officers, executives and rest of the staff, especially those who are from outside Bengal. We have to raise this issue in some chamber of commerce meeting….

Receiver: Good strategy… Let the world know about what’s happening here.

Caller: See, if it continues this way and there is no action, then Haldia will turn into an industrial graveyard. It will turn into (the caller mentions the name of a state, from where industry was driven away by prolonged insurgency and extortion). The message that’s going out will not have a positive impact on the industrial scenario of the state. We can only hope that the administration will realise the potential impact….

Receiver: Yes, Sir…

Caller: Now, I have to hang up… Will talk when we meet.

Receiver: OK, Sir.

According to records with the Haldia Development Authority — the nodal agency in the township — the port town has 37 large and medium companies. The list includes Haldia Petrochemicals, Indian Oil Corporation, Exide Industries and Tata Chemicals. The companies collectively employ around 80,000 people.

While the labourers are mostly local recruits, a large number of senior officials are from other states. The executives live in housing complexes located outside the industrial zones.

A small section of the top brass in various companies —like Bhushan Patil of HBT —stays at Sankhini Apartments, from where the alleged kidnapping took place.

Against the backdrop of a movement for jobs for sons of the soil by Trinamul trade union leaders, the safety of professionals from beyond Bengal has become the main concern for company officials.

Several HR officials of Haldia-based companies said that they were preparing lists of employees from outside Bengal and their residential addresses.

“I got a mail from my headquarters asking me to send a detailed report on what happened to the HBT officials and how the local administration reacted. These incidents are getting covered in the media, but our bosses want to know the details from us,” said a senior official of a company that employs over 1,000 people at its facility.

Companies are to keen to keep tabs on the political environment in places where they have production facilities. Decisions on expansion in manufacturing facilities, recruitment of human resource and other management decisions are influenced by such information.

“It is true that we don’t have incidents like theft, robbery or rape in Haldia. But highhanded approach of the union leaders… their muscle-flexing during recruitment has become a common feature in the last one year or so,” said an executive.

The Telegraph had carried a series of reports on how trade unions claiming the backing of Trinamul were coming in the way of normal functioning of various companies.

“But abduction of officials of a company is unprecedented and it changes the perspective. When our bosses will get such reports and come to know that the administration turned a blind eye, the perception about Haldia will change,” the official said.

Such concerns are not isolated. Most senior officials The Telegraph spoke to over the past two days said the threshold of tolerance had been breached.

“We have been told to step up security on the factory premises. Our senior employees have been advised to move around in groups to avoid any untoward incident. They have also been advised to be careful about outsiders at their housing complexes,” said a senior HR official in a company that gets actively traded on the stock exchanges.

“We in the HR team have been advised to be careful during our meetings with union representatives. During the bargaining process, we often bring reference to how other leaders used to negotiate with us earlier. We have been specifically told to steer clear of such references,” he added.

He added the company was planning to strengthen security at the staff housing complexes.

“We are getting requests for increased deployment on factory premises and some housing complexes in Haldia,” confirmed an official of a security firm.