Min­imise strikes for sus­tain­able pro­duc­tiv­ity

Business Daily (Kenya) - - EDITORIAL & OPINION - Kar­iuki Gathuitu Nairobi

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.



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