“Organisations with fair policies face the least disruption” | Sunday Observer

“Organisations with fair policies face the least disruption”

13 September, 2020
Franklyn Amerasinghe
Franklyn Amerasinghe

Organisations need proper governance and concern for people who serve them whether they have a profit orientation or not, said Former Director General of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) and legal luminary Franklyn Amerasinghe at the launch of his book ‘Business Oriented People Management’ at the EFC last week.

Excerpts of the speech:

“The common perception is that business management is about profits and people are only a means to an end - the end being profit.

“My theme was to place People Managers within an organisational frame which is all the while grappling with a multitude of factors some of which are beyond the control of the enterprise and dictated by social and political forces.

“By acquiring awareness of factors which influence stakeholders, Human Resource Managers could make a more significant contribution to their organisations, and also benefit by better recognition of their own roles by demonstrating their ability to think holistically.

“The professionalism of a People Manager comes from an ability to understand the organisation and its people as completely as humanly possible.

“I have had a working life of over fifty years. I learnt industrial relations, and learnt to deal with its many social ramifications, from the master, Sriyan de Silva, to whom the book is dedicated.

“Governance and handling people I learnt by my participation in Boards in the public and private sector, and of course by managing the Federation and its services.

“People at work need to identify their accountability to the community and having socially well-adjusted employees is another key aspect of the People Manager’s role. Overall sustainability is a people-driven activity.

“People need to be the same whether they are at home or at the workplace. The pandemic and the locus of employment being shunted back and forth between the traditional workplace and the home, may have caused confusion in the lives of some.

“The history of managing people in Sri Lanka is attempted in the first chapter. Organisations react to situations rather than anticipate events.

“The EFC, for example, was formed as a reaction to the first national trade union of Goonesinghe. Managing people was reactive and based on dispute prevention and mitigation of damage through agreed processes.

“Companies sought refuge either under the labour laws or collective agreements, to ensure that they could do their business without interruption.One thing was always clear, the least disrupted organisations were those which had clear, transparent and fair policies.

“The Open Economy challenged management to be productive and efficient for their survival or growth. From the 1980s, sector wide bargaining was progressively dismantled and employers grasped the opportunity to introduce the carrot of personal incentives, and other individual carrots, which would make the employee think of his or her individual interests.

“HR Development seemed directly proportional to what the organisation wanted to extract from the employee and by and large paid scant attention to what the employee himself or herself wanted. 

“When the markets are buoyant, when career paths can be opened, profits flow steadily, and there is largesse to distribute. History shows us that cyclical changes are inevitable in consumer markets, but our organisations are never ready for adverse situations. Employees are then seen as a burden, aggravated by the rigidity of local laws.

Bad times

“Organisations need to think of the ever present risk of bad times and cushion themselves against it. Decision makers in a company have paid little attention to accepting the value of Human Resource Services for anticipating and planning for the risks which beset them.

“The CEO has the primary responsibility for performance, and motivating employees to perform, by ensuring that they are treated fairly, equally and with empathy. He or she, in turn must see that the code which he lives by is adopted by all with People Management responsibilities.

“The HR Service would be a team of Managers and Executives who form a core service of communicating policy, setting and administering processes, managing issues and settling them amicably, coaching and mentoring those responsible for teams, encouraging the aspirations of employees and planning their development.The bond between the CEO, sector managers, line managers and the HR services is a vital one.

“Governance issues are as distant from the realm of HR Services as could possibly be, right now.This needs to change so that the HR function is an integrated strategic function. The organisation has apart from the need to be responsible to shareholders, an overarching responsibility to a multitude of stakeholders. This includes the employees and their families, groups to which they belong whether religious or social, the community within which one does business, the political groups, consumers and value chains to name some obvious groups.


“The policy makers of a company need to have a dialogue with employees on an ongoing basis, and this can be best achieved by an HR Service which could be a channel for two-way communication.

“The need for a proper system of dialogue is strongly advocated by the book. But for such a dialogue to be possible, the HR function must have adequate competence to know what the issues for top management are, and what information should be communicated to it to ensure that decisions are people sensitive.

“HR people nowadays know little about Industrial Relations which many ignore at their peril. The current global situation has brought the focus again on collective interests rather than individual interests of employees, which latter area is what most HR people have been tutored in.

I have given an overview of the significant laws and of collective bargaining as these are essential to understand legal compliance and the implications of collective thinking. ILO Conventions, concerns of the WTO, International Unions, and Ethical Investors are useful to create a global context for employment.

“We live in an era of specialisation, and technical people who direct the work of people, fail to see that employment has social and economic consequences far beyond the work unit.


“The Novel Coronavirus has resulted in businesses being challenged to create novel methods of survival. The clock was an essential tool of managing work, and in the past, employers thought that discipline started with employees being made to adhere to a norm of eight solid hours, or more if needed, under their watchful eyes.

“A paradigm shift in favour of work which is self-managed, casts obligations on both sides to be responsible. There has to be a culture change to be flexible and creative, in eliciting performance from a virtual workplace.

“There is also no special credit for talent acquired or retained.In short, people are not valued as a resource.

“The failure to have processes which help everyone in the organisation to have access to information I think is responsible for much of the pain.

“Social Responsibility is not only for good times but is a continuing responsibility. Laws are of no consequence as they are meant to be applied when conditions are normal. This is why Courts of Equity were born.

“The current situation demands common sense solutions which are flexible, fluid but responsible in terms of sharing the pain equitably. The history of the world has revealed that desperation caused by inequality is the seed for revolution.