One of the secrets to success in labour relations is maintaining a system of checks and balances between management and labour, a manager at one of the world’s largest automobile corporations said.
Osigo Ichiro, head of Toyota Motor Korea, said in a breakfast meeting hosted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry yesterday that the 50 years of labour peace at Toyota was due largely to the separate roles of managers and workers.
“Media people (in Korea) often ask me if the Toyota union is willing to be involved in the company’s decision-making process with regard to important projects. The answer is negative,” he said in a speech on labour and management relations at Toyota.
“The Toyota union believes the union should function as a counterbalance to the company. If the union is involved, it should inevitably take part of the responsibility for the results, no matter how limited their involvement is. In other words, the union might compromise its function as a critic.
“The Toyota union would rather maintain its ability to check the company’s behaviour,” explained the 49-year-old president, who has been in Korea for 10 months.
Ichiro professes that this was a hard lesson to learn for Toyota, which was founded in 1937.
The Japanese corporation weathered months of strikes in 1950, including a 75-day walkout dubbed the “Great Dispute,” when it decided to lay off one-fourth of its employees to keep the business from going under.
“And then a number of union members gradually started to question whether it really means anything to them to go on strikes so often. They realised that job security can only be realised if the company is healthy and financially viable,” Ichiro recounted.
In 1962, a joint declaration was signed between the labour union and the management, promising to “respect and trust each other,” and saying, “they should bring prosperity to the company and improve union members’ conditions through an increase of productivity.”
There has not been a single instance of labour strife at Toyota since. Accordingly, good communication between labour and management is at the heart of good industrial relations at Toyota, Ichiro argued. He particularly emphasised the role of middle managers in establishing labour peace.
“During the 1950 crisis, for instance, the role of mid-level managers was crucial as they were the ones who talked to union members and explained the company’s vision and policies to obtain their understanding and cooperation.
“Their attitude was far from authoritative or high-handed. (After all) middle managers were once their (union members’) senior colleagues in the workplace,” the president said.
Thus, one of the responsibilities of middle managers is to keep the communication going in the workplace, he opined.
As for his company’s operations in Korea, the executive said he would bring Japan’s system for managing labour relations to the local branch. Ultimately, this means keeping the employees happy so as to drive the company to greater success, he said.
“Of course this does not mean that the corporation will sacrifice the interests of the shareholders in any way, but I believe the investors should also realize that the company they are investing in cannot succeed without cooperation from the employees,” Ichiro said.
He also noted that the union and the management are like two wheels on the same axle, in that unless they are in line and moving in sync, a car, or a business, cannot move forward. – The Korea Herald/ Asia News Network