Even as the share of permanent workers in the overall workforce continues to come down, it is only a matter of time before contract workers, too, get unionised. N Srinivasan, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of India Cements, who is an acknowledged leader when it comes to dealing with labour unions, said this at the inaugural session of the ‘Conference on Industry 4.0 & Design Thinking in IR’, organised by the Madras Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MCCI) here today. “The next wave of challenge for the manufacturing industries will not be from the permanent workers of today but from the contract workers of tomorrow,” he said. When the industry-wise wage settlement started in 1992 for the cement sector, India Cements had about 3,500 permanent workers but it has now dwindled to less than 1,000, he pointed out.“By the time the next settlement (wage) comes, in 2022, we will have only around 500 permanent employees across all our manufacturing facilities put together,” Srinivasan said, adding that the unions have realised that their main constituency (permanent workers) has already gone and that they are mobilising contract workers in order to stay relevant. Be in touch with the unions Noting that contract workers will demand pay on par with permanent workers, he said the government, too, has started to think on the lines of ‘same work, same pay’. “A manufacturing company cannot ignore (it) but have to deal with it at some point or the other. Automation and multi-skilling are some of the aspects that will help address this issue,” he said. However, he also added that unions are not the ‘big bad wolves’ they are perceived to be and dealing with unions will only make life a lot better. “It is most important that you sit across the table and understand the needs of the workers and unions,” Srinivasan advised the industrial relations (IR) professionals present at the event. Highlighting the role of IR managers, he said, they are the ‘heart of the enterprise’, who can guide the top management about workers’ needs and aspirations. “My advice will be — involve yourself with unions and also ask your management to get involved with them regularly,” he said.Srinivasan, who was also a former chairman of the Cement Manufacturers Association (CMA), has the distinction of concluding seven out of eight wage settlements in the industry and helping maintain industrial peace and cordial relations between the management and workmen in the cement industry.“The ultimate test in any organisation, particularly in manufacturing industries, is — can you walk through the shop floor with the feeling that nothing will happen to you….when you reach that stage, you know you have succeeded,” Srinivasan said. Tap the opportunity Terming Industry 4.0 as an integration of physical and digital technologies, Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, President, MCCI, in his welcome address, said India today is in a very advantageous position to capitalise on the opportunity unleashed by Industry 4.0. “Two ingredients make up this opportunity — one is technology and its applicability and the other one is talent and its availability,” Ramamoorthy said. Citing various reports, he said India will add about 92 million people in the working age group during 2020-30 while China will lose around 62 million working age people during the same period due to an ageing population. The one-day conference deliberated on the impact of Industry 4.0 on Industrial relations and the role of Industrial Relations professionals in managing employment-related issues in the modern industrial society.