The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) joined the China Enterprises Confederation (CEC) and other Employer Federations in East Africa for discussions on the impact of Covid-19 on Employment Relations and what Chinese Employers in the region need to know.
This first Chinese - Africa engagement gave the employers confederations an opportunity to give a status update on emerging labour relations challenges and possible solutions towards this as provided for by each country.
Mr. Douglas Opio, the Executive Director of the Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) noted that the situation in Uganda has been relatively stable with the Government allowing businesses to operate under strict regulations. “This has had a positive response on employers. However, employee issues are emerging and the Federation continues to issue advisories on a needs basis,” he said.
The Deputy Director Chinese Employers Confederation, Mr. Yu Wu noted that the China Africa Program sought to encourage Chinese employers to carry out responsible business in Africa, build harmonious industrial relations and build sustainable businesses.
Dr Aggrey Mlimuka, the Executive Director, Association of Tanzania Employers (ATE) noted that the employers rallied Government to address Covid - 19 urgently due to its impact on busineses. ATE proposed a raft of measures to lobby government to make policy changes to cater for the unprecedented situation.
“The Federation will continue to engage with Chinese Employers in Kenya & other stakeholders on matters concerning employment, employers and employees’ challenges with the view of finding real time solutions for enterprise survival," said Ms. Jacqueline Mugo, the Executive Director, FKE.
From the discussions, Employers agreed that the pandemic had impacted Industrial Relations in the highlighted ways
•Compliance with government Protocols and Guidelines
•Ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) negotiations were put on hold in order to observe social distance protocols.
•Meetings for resolution of trade disputes at the labour offices were all suspended.
•Implementation of financial clauses in CBAs were suspended due to the unbearable wage bill on employers.
•Employers could no longer operate normal shift work as workers had to leave their stations by 1600 hours.
To understand the options Chinese employers' have in resolving industrial relations issues under these circumstances, ensure business continuity and save jobs, FKE led social partners in formulating a Framework Agreement providing for consultations through good will, trust and mutual understanding.
Social partners agreed that employees could be sent on normal leave, leave in advance, unpaid leave and where inevitable subjecting employees to temporary pay cuts as part of survival strategies.
In the foregoing, Chinese employers in the East Africa region were called upon to constitute a forum for lobbying & advocacy on issues of common business interest and join to Apex Employer Organizations in their respective countries of operation in order to protect and promote their rights & interests .
The Federation has launched a Masterclass Training on Workplace Ethics and Culture to help employers and employees navigate and create proper responses in this changing environment at the workplace occasioned by the Pandemic.
This is premised on the fact that in the long run the changes and disruptions caused by Covid-19 pandemic have an adverse impact on those who do not appropriately respond to it. The main goal of this masterclass is to promote ethical behaviour and culture that drives performance at the workplace.
The module sought to build the capacity of delegates to identify the building blocks of a good value system in the reality of Covid-19, appreciate the evolving culture and how Covid-19 has impacted the workplace and appreciate the role that leadership plays in building the desired organizational culture.
In this phase everybody is learning because of the emerging culture, this requires a new mindset and a new orientation for all. The new workplace culture provided emphasis on experimentation and a state of continuous learning because we are not sure of the efficacy of what we are doing now.
We note that employers must create a psychological safety net for their employees. Giving them an opportunity to communicate, air their views freely and appreciate their concerns. A new paradigm shift on what to do, how to reengineer business and employee relations.
In the learnings, it cropped up is that culture is cascaded from the top therefore leaders must ask themselves what they are doing to set the stage for change in culture and ethics in this new environment. They must put deliberate efforts to institute the desired culture with good value systems and ethics to sustain performance and productivity.
What must companies do in this changing workplace environment? Employers should resolve to address emerging challenges quickly, remain resilient, think of a strategy to get the business back to normal, re- imagine the possibilities and opportunities in the new normal and decide what reforms to take to sustain their enterprises and protect livelihoods.
This is the time to ACT! Improve our infrastructure, change our system and come up with strategies in managing the Pandemic. This calls for a change in our culture and ethics.