life is short. do first thing first.

Day: May 22, 2010

HR Manager’s story — “We demand 5-month bonus, else we quit.”

NOTE: Found this scribble in my unpublished posts folder. So I took liberty to publish it now. It is a real story — life as HR Manager in an oil and gas company in Yangon, Myanmar. 

14th May 2010:

That was the threat of boycott that sent shivers down the spinal of the management team.

Today I traveled to Kanbauk, a small village in southern Division of Thanintaryi in southern Myanmar. We have a pipeline operation center here, the hub for our gas export to our customer in Thailand.

The flight time was 1 hour and 20 minutes on Twin Otter 300 series And throughout the journey, some 10000 feet above the fertile delta area of Irrawaddy, I dozed off at once upon take-off with head hanging in the air as the seat had no headrest. Not sure myself why I was so tired, mentally. May be the work pressure. Pressures which made my heart beat faster. Pressures which put me at the corners most of the time. Every now and then the thought about changing job came to my mind, but I paid no heed. Now it was here again!

Waiting for me on the ground were some 40 employees — casual laborers we hired to upkeep our 70km-long pipeline. Days earlier they sent a memo from an anonymous gmail account to the GM demanding some kinda compensation. The whole issue or mess rather started when the top management  of this organization started asking the employees, ‘what is our core business?”. That simple question sent line managers scramble for some kind of actions to be taken on their part, in order to re-channel their resources to support Company core business. On my part as HR manager, manpower optimization is the area. Laborers, drivers, gardener, security personnel are non-core. Yes we need their services to support our core business, but we do not want to own them. The management has decided to transfer their employment to other company which in turn will provide us the manpower services we need. The idea is simple. A simple plan which could go either way. Happy staff. Or unhappy staff. But it seemed to me now I am facing the latter.

On positive note, am I in the business of making people happy? I am not running an amusement park, right?

“Book me AirAsia free ticket, please.”

May 2010:

In this country banks are owned by the Government. Banking system is traditional and primitive. Read my previous post on this.  Only 2 banks can deal with foreign currencies. Banks have no products. No credit cards.  No debit cards. No ATMS. No housing loans. No car loans. All transactions were in cash. Even my salary was paid in home currency, and when I ran out cash to buy foods here, I either borrowed from friends or waited until I went back home for meetings or holidays.

So when offered free seats recently, it was an opportunity for ‘kaki jalan’ like me’. I could not get the seat to places I wanted to go to like Beijing or Taipei. After heavy “investment”  — yes I stayed up late until 1am one morning and the next day was a working day —  I managed to get seats to Makassar (airport code UPG) somewhere in Indonesia, south of Kalimantan. The name is so exotic and may be there is something special there. Travel date is in March 2011. I don’t know where I will be at that time.

Shared this experience with my local staff. The  most vocal among them said: “We cannot get the free seats ‘cos we cannot pay online. We do not have credit cards.”

Monsoon’s coming to Yangon, finally

May 17th 2010:

It has been hot, really hot in Yangon for the last couple months. Temperature rised up to 46C in some areas. They expected rain during last Thingya n Water Festival, but God said NOT YET. A mosque near Aung San Stadium conducted special hajat prayers to call for the rain last FRiday. The doa (prayers) led by the young Imaam was so long that it took about 20 minutes.

Myanmar Times has been reporting about cases of sudden death due to heatstroke. Yesterday I read about a taxi driver, died at the busy intersection in Yangon.

Last week the paper quoted more cases in Upper Myanmar like Mandalay and Magway. Details could not be verified.

So the heavy pouring rain today — started at 10:30am when I was en route to lawyer’s office — was a sight of relief to everyone and other living things. Plants, grass and trees and even frogs, who started singing in joy.

“They are your employees, by Laws”

May 17th 2010:

I was in his office to seek his legal opinion on our stand-off with our employees at our plant in southern Myanmar. He was our local legal counsel, so to speak.

Counsel’s view was crystal clear. They are your employees and you have some obligations on them.  You cannot simply terminate their contract and pass it over to another Company. I argued on the basis that my Company  has no contractual obligation whatsover, for one simple reason — they have no contract of employment with us.  Yes they worked with us and we paid them daily salary, but that’s it. No other benefits for them. They are not our permanent staff. My argument went down in the drain in front of the old man but spoke well in English, but rather slowly. He reached for old law books from his lower drawer. It was very hot in his Yangon downtown office — mid 40C.

“Still valid you see. This Act was passed in 1923. Workmen Compensation Act 1923. This one defines the workman.”

I browsed thru the yellowish stained pages, written in Burmese, but some pages got English translation.

“This clause (m) says contract of employment not necessarily signed . It can come in form of expressed or implied, oral or writing.”

I nodded my head in agreement. Facts were presented in front of my very eyes.  I am the man of facts and how can I deny these facts. I looked down at the busy Pansodan Road and words of my boss in the HQ kept coming back to me : BE EXTRA CAREFUL IN TERMINATING LOCAL STAFF. YOU DO NOT KNOW WHO THER FRIENDS ARE AT THE TOP.

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