John Manzongo At the Workplace
Retrenchment is one word that elicits a lot of images and reactions.
On the one hand, it is like the proverbial sword of Damocles – a constant and imminent threat.On the other, it represents a viable alternative in a distressed economic environment.
In various troubled companies today, there is a lot of talk and plans about retrenchments – even in the media where some companies have since dangled the carrot (retrenchment package) and some workers quickly jumped at the opportunity.
The big question is where will these workers go to or what type of businesses will they venture into with whatever amounts of money they get as packages when we can see that unemployment is so high?
They are actually adding to those figures already on the streets.
Money needs disciplined people otherwise in no time one will realise that he or she has blown up that money, which will be their only treasure and gateway to success and soon they will be destitute.
Some might think they will invest and start businesses in various sectors of the economy but my question is what business exactly and what sector exactly?
The sad thing about Zimbabwe now is that foreigners are venturing into sectors where locals used to dominate such as food outlets, hair salons, furniture shops, boutiques and many others.
Lately, the City of Harare has been talking of retrenching workers in its managerial ranks as a way of reducing expenditure but then the big question is how much will these bosses walk away with and how much will be left to sustain the ordinary worker, let alone enough for service delivery?
The other issue is that workers representative committees seem to have forgotten who they are, who they represent and what their roles are.
Many have since become the employers or management’s good boys after managing to under-represent or misrepresent their rightful constituencies.
Management also seems to have taken advantage of the harsh economic atmosphere to induce fear among the so-called vocal workers who seem to know too much about workers’ rights by reminding them how cold it is out there.
Just in case workers’ committees have forgotten or do not seem to know their duties, I will highlight a few to them just to freshen up their minds.
Their duties are to fully represent workers’ rights at National Employment Council meetings be they for salary increments, safety at work, grievance resolution mechanisms, retrenchments and many others.
Worker representatives are not supposed to fear management or be harassed by management because they are the gateway or link people between management to the workers.
Take, for example, the construction sector: many workers are being subjected to inhuman working conditions where they must perform task work (mugwazo), which is against the law in Zimbabwe and internationally as stipulated by International Labour Organisation conventions ratified by member countries. It is termed “exploitative”.
Instead of workers’ committees representing the rights of workers you see them siding or speaking on behalf of employers.
Many workers in this sector are working without protective clothing and instead of their representatives to fight for them, one will see that the representatives are given the best of the protective clothing to shut them up. So, few enjoy while the rest suffer.
Workers’ committees are failing to fully stand for and by the people they represent especially in cases of salary negotiations.
Many people I spoke with expressed reservations about joining workers’ committees because they fear losing their jobs when they clash with management in salary negotiations.
There are instances where workers’ committee heads are bribed by management into accepting poor salary deals or settling for poor working conditions just because they will be given hefty pay rises as a way of silencing them.
Under such circumstances it then calls for representatives with integrity, professionalism and the will of their constituencies at heart.
This should not be taken to say that worker representatives must be militant or radical, but they need to stand firm on their role to ensure that workers are not exploited or abused by greed employers.
Workers’ committees these days easily agree to everything proposed by employers without also expressing their opinions and facts in a clear manner.
If, for example, employers say the company can afford to pay so much, the committees just agree without question.
The workers’ reps nowadays are mostly concerned with self-enrichment and self-gain.
There are also instances where, when employers see a vocal or knowledgeable worker, they promote him to managerial grade where he or she will no longer speak on behalf of workers.
As such, the workers remain vulnerable to abuse by employers.
A vibrant economy needs a vibrant workforce which is not easily pushed around and also firm management which follows proper business ethics.
The employers and employees who are calling for performance-based salary structures are spot on.
Such initiatives will ensure that both workers and employers benefit in a fair manner because they will all know how much money was produced by the company on a monthly or yearly basis and profits and salaries are adjusted fairly according to productivity records.
Workers are advised to fully utilise the opportunity and get value for their labour.