When Gyanendra Prakash Singh (GP to friends) landed on the plum job as the Personnel Manager of the Laundry Products Division of Fisher & Paykel shortly after migrating to New Zealand in 1987, he thought it was the beginning of a long career with the burgeoning company.
The fiery Union leader who had a tumultuous career in his native Fiji had migrated just months earlier with his wife Athish and their children (daughter Sonya and son Abhishek) following the first coup in 1987.
“Being on the other side of the fence as a ‘management guy’ would help to sustain industrial peace and harmony,” he mused.
He was wrong. In less than a week after his arrival, he was the cause of tension and strike in his own division, perpetrated by wrong reaction to a misheard comment. A Worker Representative told him, “The boys have decided to go out until Monday,” but he heard it as “The boys have decided to go out on Monday.” Hoping to have a three-day reprieve to sort things out, he quipped, “That is fine.”
GP has chronicled well what happened thereafter in his highly readable book, In the First Person Singhular (Inside the Union v Management War Zone).
There is honesty, self-criticism and of course hindsight wisdom throughout the Book, which is easy to read and difficult to put down.
There are no illustrations in the form of images but his narrative style sustains reader interest. The ‘F&P’ incident led to him to ponder why discords occur between management and workers.
“Industrial action is a demonstration of the failure by both parties involved. Irrespective of what is publicly played out in the media or through newsletters, it is an admission of superficial relationships, of token consultative practices. Underlying reasons are often not the proffered ones for the management position or union action and an easier rationale is put up as a front for this breakdown,” he says, as a suffix to the unfortunate episode.
His ten-year career in the health sector (Bay of Plenty, Counties Manukau and Auckland Region) was equally tumultuous. GP says (Page 55) he learnt “costly but invaluable lessons,” even as was shocked by the rampant bureaucracy and wasteful expenditure impeding delivery of quality service.
He propounded the The Singh Theory suggesting that the amount of necessary rigour and copious documentation in clinical areas has illegitimately traversed the border.
“It has migrated into non-clinical processing of managing, organising and planning. The situation in the New Zealand health sector is ridiculous,” he said but confessed that his Theory about the massive amount of bureaucracy has not been convincing enough.
The nostalgic chapters on his stormy relationships with the airline industry in his native Fiji also make interesting reading.
The book has its lighter moments, with end-of-chapter humour. On Page 41, he recalls his time playing soccer with the F&B team to get to know the factory workers better.
“Today we are playing the ‘Otahuhu Indians.’ Our Captain Alan gets us in a huddle before kick-off, offers some motivational blah-blahs and then says, ‘Don’t give them any Corners, they will put up a bloody dairy there straightaway!’ Those were the days.”
The book has apparently amused his compatriots back home. The Fiji National University is hosting the launch of the Book at its new Lecture Theatre on June 2.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand and a number of academics, professionals and trade union leaders are expected to be present at the function.
In the First Person Singhular is now available at Gone West Books (Titirangi Village) Green Bay Bookshop, Kelston Books, Gifts & Stationery (Kelston), Paper Plus (Onehunga Mall and Westfield Pakuranga) and Take Note (Hunters Plaza, Papatoetoe).
In the First Person Singhular
Inside the Union v Management War Zone
By Gyanendra Prakash Singh
Nine Chapters, 224 Pages
At select bookshops