Has Maximisation Created High Unemployment? [opinion]

Then one analyses the many rich natural resources this country has and the various private and public organisations that have mushroomed in this country, one wonders why we still experience high levels of unemployment and the subsequent high poverty levels.
Former Zambia Institute of Human Resource Management (ZIHRM) president, Namucana Musiwa said out of the population of about 14 million people, only one million people are in formal employment and only four million are in informal sector, leaving the rest in disarray and wallowing in shackles of poverty.
But when one considers how many local and foreign investments related organisations exist in this country, one feels that such organisation could have employed and can still employ many skilled and non-skilled Zambians at economic monthly salaries and acceptable conditions of service.
However, when one goes to most of these organisations, one finds that few workers exist in each organisation.
The purpose of this article is to show that profit maximisation in most businesses has contributed to challenges in genuine job creation and in the process, it seems to be contributing to increase in high poverty levels in this country.
When this writer visited a certain organisation and asked one of the bosses why certain things weren’t done as expected, thereby creating a wrong impression to outsiders that the organisation doesn’t care about customers, this boss retorted that to save costs, they have few workers.
He further admitted that the available workers seemed to have low capacity to address the observed challenges, and many other functions assigned to them in that organisation.
Similarly, one worker in Kitwe rang this writer to complain against his employers’ overloading him with many functions when his job description states few and different functions from the ones he was assigned to do.
The worker, who didn’t want to be named for fear of victimisation, said he and other workers were rarely off duty to rest and even going to church was rare because of too much work. He said he starts work around 06:00 and knocks off at around 20:00 every day.
And a certain Lusaka resident, who also refused to be named, said they are highly overworked at her place of work. The lady, who works as a maid, said they are not even given half days over the week end.
She said that her employers sometimes don’t allow her to attend funeral burials even for her close relatives and friends. She reported that occasionally she is allowed to attend church services.
“We are not allowed to attend some funeral burials even for our close relatives. Even going to church is a problem with our employer,” she complained.
Another Lusaka resident, who works for a named road construction firm, said his employer pays them K250 every fortnight, which amounts to K500 per month.
The worker, who also spoke on anonymity for fear of losing his job, asked how a person with a family of six members can pay for rentals, send children to school and still survive for the whole month on K500.
And when one goes to most of other organisations, what one finds is that three to five functions which can employ almost three to five people is now done by one worker.
With the technological aancement in computers and automation, one worker does many duties in a day.
Some employers deliberately pay their workers late to frustrate them to resign and lose their outstanding salary arrears. Some employers know that if a casual worker who didn’t sign any conditions of service resigns, it would be almost impossible him or her to claim his or her salary arrears. Unclaimed salary arrears are perceived to be good contributions to profit maximisation motives.
This type of approach to employing workers and the attendant work environment seem to be common in most foreign owned business outfits.
While organisations employ few workers for too many cumbersome duties, remuneration isn’t proportional to the tasks done.
Considering such observations and complaints, one wonders whether modern organisations have specific staff establishment or it is do everything with any number of workers available in an organisation for more profits for an organisation.
Does the ministry of Labour know about such practices in some local and foreign investors? How often does ministry of Labour inspect organisations to consider how far employers have enforced government laws on minimum wages and how fair and conducive are working conditions of service?
This is about job creation strategy. This is critical because the same negative factors are affecting some achievements the country is supposed to score as we celebrate 50 years of political independence and beyond.
While there seems to be profit maximisation with low levels of workers, some local and foreign workers in senior management levels in the same organisation get reasonable amounts of money per month.
While one can argue that it is normal for senior top management officials to get higher monthly salaries than junior workers, what concerns some people are the gaps between the majority workers and the few top management officials and indeed the amount of work the subordinates do against their monthly incomes.
Go to some of these shops where one finds local citizens working in junior positions and foreigners working in senior management related positions. The gap in monthly salaries goes as far as K10, 000 to K15, 000 if not more.
This is proof that most businesses in this country are making high profits. And that it is only workers of local origin in lower positions who sacrifice for more profit maximisation.
As Bishop Joshua Banda stated when he was introducing the new National HIVAIDS Council (NAC), Director General, Dr Jabin Mulwanda, a motivated workforce increases productivity.
Therefore, cost reduction and in the process profit maximisation should not only be exerted on general workforce. Profit maximisation in firms should consider the plight of other workers and motivate workers accordingly, including economic monthly salaries which should be paid on time.
And one can argue that labour has become one of the cheapest cost in running any business in this country and that most businesses are raising abnormal profits not because they are effective and efficient in their operations but because they use cheap labour.
Profit maximisation should be a product of increased workers’ morale which translates into increased productivity for profit maximisation.
When increased workers’ morale creates increased productivity, profit maximisation will automatically fall in place. The realised profit maximisation should lead to business expansion which gives birth to economies of large scale. Economies of large scale in a business can create the need for employing more motivated workers.
So where is the problem in job creation in this country?
It appears the murder and therefore the death of the position of economists in most public and private organisations including in the ministry of Labour has created a lot of challenges on human resource management thereby using the size of labour force as the only variable to reduce costs and increase profits.
If economists were employed in these organisations, they would use econometrics to fairly arrive at profit maximisation figures without necessarily reducing or exploiting the current workforce.
It is against this background that the ministry Labour inspectors should widen their inspection net to check how many tasks one worker does against the expected standards (if we have any).
It would be important to find out: What is the capacity of a worker doing all such functions?
Surely, the current numerous organisations in this country can accommodate more than 1, 000 workers in formal employment.
This is not to say that citizens are not supposed to be in informal sector. But to say that the almost nine million citizens who are neither in formal nor in informal employment are, as Namucana Musiwa puts it, not only a concern but an embarrassing to our rich country.
The current labour law reforms which Labour and Social Security Minister, Fackson Shamenda, says will soon be finalised shouldn’t be just on paper as the case is now but should be enforced to the benefit of Zambian workers.
Minister Shamenda confessed that some employers are taking aantage of some defects in the current labour laws thereby exploiting workers in many ways including casualisation of workers for more than six months. But does the ministry of Labour have enough capacity to enforce the labour laws?
The ministry of Labour needs more capacity building and support for it to monitor employers and enforce labour related laws.
In this light, one expects workers, respective trade unions, employers, ZIHRM, Zambia Federation of Employers (ZFE) and the labour ministry to work as a team to reduce on the current poor employee relations which has become common among many public and private organisations.
Profit maximisation is negatively affecting employee relations which in turn negatively affect productivity and job creation in this country.
The author is a trainer and career coach.

Source : The Times of Zambia

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