Friday, September 15, 2017

Mitigation Prevents Litigation – Musings on Military Grievance Management System

MITIGATION PREVENTS LITIGATION 

IS THE PRESENT MILITARY GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL SYSTEM EFFECTIVE...?
Musings of a Veteran
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Over the last few years  from time to time  there have been numerous media reports about military servicemen and ex-servicemen going to tribunals and courts to seek justice. 

Recently – I was shocked to see a news item with a headline: 

OVER 100 ARMY OFFICERS MOVE SUPRMEME COURT CLAIMING ‘DISCRIMINATION’ IN PROMOTION 

A few months ago – I was appalled to read a news item about the Navy: 

TRIBUNAL SLAMS NEPOTISM IN NAVY, IMPOSES Rs 5 LAKH AS FINE ON VICE-ADMIRAL 

What is happening in the Armed Forces...? 

Uniformed Military Servicemen (“Faujis”) are simple individuals and are not litigious by nature.

A Military Serviceman goes to court to seek justice only as a last resort after having tried and exhausted all means to get redressal within the service. 

If the internal grievance redressal system of the defence services is effective  most problems can be resolved in-house  and there is no need for servicemen to go to external agencies like bureaucracy, tribunals and courts to seek justice for redressal of their grievances.

Why are there frequent media reports of increasing numbers of aggrieved Defence Personnel, serving and retired, of the Army Navy and Air Force, going to courts to seek redressal of their grievances...?

The increasing tendency to litigation indicates that all is not well with the Internal Grievance Redressal Mechanism of the Armed Forces.

It appears that there are too many grievances in the army navy and air force and the services are probably not able to satisfactorily resolve many of these grievances by their internal mechanism.

The failure of the internal military grievance redressal system is an ominous sign.

The negative publicity in the media about increasing number of court cases by servicemen and ex-servicemen bring ignominy to the Defence Services and tarnish their good reputation.

Also  a large amount of resources, material and emotional, individual and organisational, tangible and intangible – all types of resources are expended in litigation.

I do not know about the other Defence Services  but during my early days in the Navy  the Naval Grievance Redressal System was very prompt and effective. 

It seems that over the years  the system has been allowed to become lax and lethargic.

In the past – grievance redressal system stood the test of time.

What has happened over the years – that today – the military grievance redressal system seems to have become ineffective  resulting in increasing litigation in Tribunals and Courts...? 

This reminded me of an article I had written many years ago on the “Seven Important Attributes of a Good Grievance Management System 


A good grievance redressal mechanism is a sine qua non of a well-designed and functional Human Resource (HR) Management System.

In order to be successful  a grievance redressal system must possess seven attributes:


SEVEN ATTRIBUTES OF AN EFFECTIVE GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL SYSTEM


1. SIMPLICITY

It must be a procedurally simple mechanism which is easy to use by every employee across the board.

It is best to have a simple form or an online drop down menu where an employee can effortlessly submit a grievance or complaint as he wishes to offline or online or even by SMS callback.

As one of my bosses used to say about grievance management:

“Don’t ask people to pour their hearts out and write long-winded sob-stories and essays – just give them a simple form to fill.”

Yes, a well-designed form can encapsulate the problem more objectively and avoid communications mismatches.


2. ACCESSIBILITY

All employees must have easy access to the grievance redressal mechanism – and – it should be quick and simple procedure to lodge a grievance.

In earlier days – before the IT Boom and prior to the advent of Internet – there used to be cards or forms which could be filled up and put in easily accessible drop boxes which were located all over the workplace, canteens and shop-floors.

Nowadays – in the digital age – it can be an online system which must be easily accessible 24/7 to all employees from their workplace and their homes as well. 

If employees have a grievance – they must know where and how to submit it – and the procedure must be fast and easy. 

With the increasing proliferation of the Social Media – it may be a good idea to make effective use of Social Media in Grievance Management.


3. EFFECTIVENESS

The grievance redressal mechanism must be effective.

The system must work (and it must be seen to work).

There must be proper monitoring, follow-up and feedback to the employees and all concerned about the status and processing of the complaint.

The grievance redressal procedure must ensure that it is made unambiguously and clearly evident to all employees that there is an honest and transparent effort to resolve all grievances in a fair and just manner.


4. EFFICIENCY and PROMPTNESS

The redressal of grievances and resolution of complaints must be done promptly and speedily in an efficient manner within stipulated time frames – so that employees develop faith in the system.

Remember – justice delayed is justice denied.


5. RESPONSIVENESS

The grievance redressal mechanism must be user-friendly and sensitive to the special needs of the employees.

It must be gender sensitized, culturally consonant and in harmony with the prevailing environment.

Most importantly – it must be modern and technologically savvy – and in sync with contemporary times.

Whatever the nature of the grievance or complaint – it must not be trivialized.

Grievances must be treated with utmost empathy and this fact must be evident to all the employees.

There must constant two-way communication between the senior management and the complainant. 

Sometimes a proactive approach is highly appreciated by employees as it nips grievances in the bud.

An impression must be made on employees that all grievances are taken seriously, treated sympathetically and handled with genuine earnestness with the objective of resolving them amicably, speedily and to the entire satisfaction of all concerned.


6. NON-VINDICTIVE

An employee must be able to submit a complaint or grievance for redressal without fear of retribution from higher management.

The employee must have no fear of reprisal from those who he is complaining against even if they are his seniors.

Checks and balances must be put in place in order to ensure that there is absolutely no victimization or harassment of the employee who is submitting a grievance or making a complaint and whistle-blowers must be protected.

The system must be absolutely non-punitive and there must not be the slightest perception or even a shred of doubt in the mind of the employees that they will be “punished” for making a complaint.


7. FAIR JUST and TRANSPARENT SYSTEM

The grievance redressal mechanism must function without fear or favour.

There must be total transparency in the procedure and justice must be done and justice must also seen to be done in a free and fair manner. 

A good Human Resource Management System is Just Fair and Transparent. 


SUMMARY 

To sum up – the 7 Key Attributes of a Good Grievance Management System are:

1. SIMPLICITY 

2. ACCESSIBILITY 

3. EFFECTIVENESS 

4. EFFICIENCY and PROMPTNESS 

5. RESPONSIVENESS

6. NON-VINDICTIVE 

7. FAIR JUST and TRANSPARENT SYSTEM  


Does the present Military Grievance Management System have these seven attributes...?

On paper – and in theory – the grievance redressal mechanisms may satisfy many of these attributes.

The problem may lie in actual implementation on the ground.

It may be worthwhile to see how many of these attributes the military grievance management system satisfies in actual practice.

With the advent and proliferation of Information Technology – the grievance redressal system can certainly be made more prompt by using modern electronic communication means to reduce the time limits for dealing with complaints. 

This will enable speedy online processing of complaints and early communication of decisions to the aggrieved individuals.

It is important to ensure timely redressal of grievances and one must remember the dictum – justice delayed is justice denied

By online grievance processing – the present time periods of many months can be reduced to a few days.

If redressal of grievances and resolution of complaints is done promptly and speedily in an efficient, fair and transparent manner  officers and soldiers/sailors/airmen will develop faith in the grievance redressal system.

In a regimented organisation like the military – it is very important for the grievance redressal system to be non-vindictive.

An officer or soldier must be able to submit a complaint without fear of retribution from senior officers.

He must have no fear of reprisal from those who he is complaining against even if they are his seniors.

Checks and balances must be put in place in order to ensure that there is absolutely no victimization or harassment of the individual who is submitting a grievance or making a complaint and whistle-blowers must be protected.

In theory and on paper – these exist – but they must be ensured in practice too.

The system must be absolutely non-punitive – and there must not be the slightest perception or even a shred of doubt in the mind of the persons submitting a grievance for redressal – that they will be “punished” for making a complaint.

The grievance redressal mechanism must function without fear or favour.

There must be total transparency in the procedure – and justice must be done – and – more importantly – justice must be seen to be done  in a free and fair manner. 

The hallmark of a good grievance redressal system is that it is absolutely FairJust and Transparent 

It is essential that the Grievance Management System is seen by all stakeholders to be absolutely Fair, Just and Transparent.

It is always best way to prevent grievances as far as possible by good HR Management Practices.

Let us now delve and analyse: 

In which areas do Defence Personnel have maximum grievances...?

If one goes by media reports – it seems that the maximum number of grievances pertain to promotion (for serving personnel) – and pay/pension (OROP/Disability Pension etc) for retired military veterans.

If the promotion system is made fair, just and transparent – most of these grievances will disappear.

Is there any need to have so much intrigue and secrecy by making performance appraisal so opaque and selection process so nebulous.

Of course – there may be a need for confidentiality of performance appraisal reports (Annual Confidential Reports aka ACRs) – till the selection board meets.

But once the selection is over – will it not be better to have total transparency – and declare the entire promotion board result publicly – by giving all ACR points, cut-offs etc of the entire batch.

This transparent approach will not only demonstrate fairness and instill confidence in the promotion system – but it will also make it difficult to indulge in favoritism.

Another area where there are grievances, especially among ex-servicemen, pertain to service conditions, pay and pension.

Many of these issues can be mitigated in-house too in order to reduce avoidable litigation. 

Yes – mitigation within the service can resolve many issues and reduce litigation in tribunals and courts.

CONCLUSION

The “powers-that-be need” to introspect whether the present system meets seven attributes of a good grievance management system listed below and whether there is any scope for improvement.

Is there a need to amend the antiquated Army Act (1950), Navy Act (1957) and Air Force Act (1950) to incorporate new grievance redressal mechanisms...?

If the internal grievance redressal management system is effective – most problems will be resolved in-house – and there will be no need for officers and soldiers/sailors/airmen to go to external agencies like bureaucracy, tribunals and courts to seek justice for redressal of their grievances.

The objective of the Defence Services must be to have grievance-free Army, Navy, Air Force and Military Veterans.

This will ensure happy servicemen and ex-servicemen with high morale.

Defence Services must follow the Grievance Redressal Motto:
MITIGATION PREVENTS LITIGATION

VIKRAM KARVE
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