Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Govt responsible for poor labour productivity

A trade union leader argues that the government cannot talk about poor labour productivity without taking responsibility for it, writes BASHI LETSIDIDI
At a time that labour productivity in other parts of the world is outpacing wages, what the finance minister, Kenneth Matambo, said in his 2015/16 budget speech shows that the Botswana situation is the direct opposite of that.
Matambo mentioned labour productivity twice and not in laudatory terms: “a recent challenge to the promotion of growth and economic diversification has been the declining total factor productivity in the domestic economy, especially labour productivity” and “… expected to improve service delivery within the public sector and thus, have a positive bearing on labour productivity and economic growth.”
On the other hand, Edward Tswaipe of the Botswana Public Employees Union has formed the opinion that employers ÔÇô who are the ones who habitually complain about poor labour productivity, don’t have full appreciation of what it really is. He wonders whether they ever consider that labour productivity can be determined by a long list of variables (some major, others minor) “but all conspiring towards a particular outcome.”
“Take for instance how slow internet can get. For those whose job nature depends on fast internet, is it fair to blame the workers for the slow internet? What about the loadshedding? For companies which have not installed big power generators, whose blame is it when workers stay idle the whole day? What about those doing deliveries when roads are not favourable or vehicles – or some other equipment – are dysfunctional? Productivity has these multiple determinants. But I’m not making an excuse for lazy workers. We need to be able to isolate and separate causes of performance problems.
“A simple, univariable, blanket conclusion is not right. I’m afraid that is the approach taken by [the Botswana National Productivity Centre]. Take the case of security guards of a certain company I know who were paid their December wages towards the end of January. Those guards who did not come to their posts during the December holidays, are they unproductive? Quantitatively, yes. But what are the factors?” Tswaipe says.
Days before Matambo presented his speech, BOPEU made this same point in a budget preview press statement.
“… we are concerned that workers alone take the blame for declining labour productivity even though they are not in control of determinant factors, such as training and provision of requisite equipment and technologies and work processes,” the statement read in part.
The nation’s foremost authority on productivity also comes in for a hiding as well. Established through an Act of Parliament in December 1993 as a parastatal, the Botswana National Productivity Centre has a board made up of representatives from government, employers’ and workers’ organisations together with a few other stakeholders. Its mandate is to enhance the level of productivity awareness. In Tswaipe’s assessment, the Centre is not doing enough because in addition to the “blanket approach” he disapproves of, he is less than thrilled with its handling of a productivity pact it co-signed with the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) in 2006 to promote labour productivity. He recalls that then BFTU Vice President, Eric Ditau, signed on behalf of the union. Five years later, BFTU’s Dr. Never Tshabang, also restated the union’s commitment to productivity through a presentation that he made.
“BNPC allowed the programme to die, as the drivers,” Tswaipe says.
In addressing this particular subject, he extends his wrath to the press which he says characteristically doesn’t report on trade unions being part of the productivity movement.
“Botswana trade unions do take active part in the productivity movement. The challenge is with the media itself, which only hears what it wants to hear. When we speak and do things around the subject, they ignore ÔÇô it’s not news. Let’s take this year’s budget. BOPEU expressed strong views on the issue, but what makes headlines? The 4 percent salary adjustment,” he says.
His views notwithstanding, Tswaipe acknowledges that there are workers whose work ethic is less than desirable.
“There are lazy workers in our workplaces. There are workers who absent themselves without any valid reason. There are those who pinch stuff belonging to the employer. Others sabotage the employer whether or not sanctioned by a union. Yet others go on unauthorised go-slows. We acknowledge these things,” he says.
In instances where such members happen to be union members, a union official appears alongside them at disciplinary hearings. Tswaipe says that when this happens, the purpose is not to contests the member’s culpability but to “fight for procedural fairness and to preserve employment where possible. That is simply because employment of any worker, even if he has stolen bread, is fundamental to the livelihood of the worker and his family.” He adds that workers themselves agree with union leadership that wrongful behaviour cannot be condoned.
“The problem is when employers don’t want to follow procedure. We fight that because when procedures are flouted, it undermines regulation of employment and sets a precedent. So we are actually fighting to defend the regulations, which is why our battle would be more on procedure and less on validity. But then the employers also want to fire workers on trumped-up charges. We cannot accept that. No union can accept that because it casualises employment and brings insecurity to all workers. So we fight to defend ourselves,” Tswaipe says.
Botswana’s labour productivity is the direct opposite of that in other parts of the world where, after a narrowing of the gap during the depth of the crisis between 2008 and 2009, labour productivity has continued to outstrip real wage. In its 2014 Global Wage Report, the International Labour Organisation says that between 1999 and 2013, labour productivity growth exceeded wage growth in countries like Germany, Japan and the United States. This decoupling is reflected in the decline in the labour income share (the share of GDP going to labour compensation) over the same period in these countries. The 2012 report pointed out that in the years before the global economic and financial crisis, wages failed to increase in line with labour productivity in many countries, particularly ÔÇô but not only ÔÇô in some of the large developed economies. The growing gap between wages and productivity has translated into a declining labour income share in these countries and may have contributed to structurally weak aggregate demand in the years before the crisis.

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