Minimise strikes for sustainable productivity
The recent strikes in both the public and private sectors show the growing clout of labour unions. While this may be a good thing, some pertinent issues needs to be noted. The unions are supposed to fight for the improvement of workers’ welfare, but their tunnel focus on employers is cause for concern.
Generally, the welfare of workers is affected by many factors. First, there is the threat from technological advancements like mobile banking, self-driving cars and tea picking machines, which are rendering many jobs and professions redundant.
We can fight innovation initially but eventually the future belongs to the innovators.
There is also the risk of companies relocating to other lower labour cost countries. US President Donald Trump for example is currently lamenting about loss of manufacturing jobs to other countries.
But that’s because labour costs are higher in US compared to those countries. Here in Kenya, there is talk of flower companies relocating to Ethiopia where production cost are cheaper, leading to loss of jobs.
Labour costs are just one of the factors of production. There are others like capital, which are also expecting returns. If we raise the labour costs too high we risk crowding out returns for the other factors, rendering the whole investment unviable.
Unemployment is really high in our nation. When we demand unsustainable labour charges we stretch the budget and limit employers’ ability to hire new people. The government policy to attract foreign investments and create employment and boost exports etc is also hampered.
To mitigate these adverse effects, the country should consider some improvements. The unions should have officials with a background in human resource management. This will ensure that the salary increases being demanded are realistic and commensurate with productivity.
Strikes should also have timelines. After giving a 21 day notice, then the strike should not extend beyond say 28 days. After the 28 days, the dispute should automatically go to court or arbitration.
This will help cushion the other stakeholders and minimise losses. For instance, the recent nurses’ strike affected the sick poor who technically weren’t in dispute with the nurses.
The strike in the tea sector, our top forex exchange earner affected the country’s revenue though the dispute was between the workers and private companies.
The unions should without asking for extra contributions be organising trainings, courses and seminars for their members that are related to their work or self-improvement. In our country where there is a mismatch between education attained and skills demanded by jobs, this would increase productivity. It would give value to employers while improving the welfare of union members.
Let’s not put undue pressure on the company on matters beyond its control. If the cost of living is high, then even the company as a corporate citizen is also feeling the pinch.
Let’s also be prioritising dialogue and other mechanisms. Our security forces for instance do not call for strikes yet they have means of having their concerns addressed. As a nation let’s embrace dialogue.
Finally, the unions should know that they are not working in isolation. The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) and business owners generally have ethical standards that make them earn their revenues without exploiting employees and the environment.
The government has a ministry of labour dedicated to workers welfare and there is even an international day for labourers.as such lets all work together towards the common goal of a sustainable better society for both the workers and their employers.