HARARE - Zimbabwe is facing a very serious liquidity crunch which has led to massive company closures, job losses, pay cuts, inconsistent and uncertain pay dates, high unemployment rates and this “thing of the past bonus issue”.
This situation is heart-rending with most, if not all employers and employees, facing it.
Getting around the challenges of disputes that may arise calls for moral understanding and moral approach.
When Tendai (not his real name) lost his job at the manufacturing concern six months ago following summary dismissal for gross incompetence, he never imagined life would be that tough.
The 46-year-old father of four had tried to take his case to the Labour Court who could not hear it early, owing to the large number of cases before the same court and his terminal benefits were not paid owing to pending case before the courts.
Tendai could no longer afford to pay rent for the core house he was leasing in Mabvuku and had to move out to Epworth, a sprawling suburb to the south east of the capital where he would occasionally take up menial jobs on nearby farms, together with his family.
His two sons aged 16 and 14, had been forced out of school because the father could no longer afford to pay for their fees at the former Group A boys’ high school on the outskirts of the city.
Things fall apart for real. The confrontational approach Tendai chose to settle differences with his employer of 24 years did not seem to produce the desired results. His supervisor had pleaded with him to avoid resorting to court action but instead to apologise to the employer for the offence he committed, using his record of service as a defence.
However, Tendai is not the only one in this situation. Several other men and women have lost their jobs in similar circumstances in recent times but some remained at work because they showed contrition.
So many employees have resorted to dragging their employers to court whenever a labour dispute arose in the organisation. Little do they realise that dragging each other to courts can further strain the relationship and worsen the wellbeing of his family, the society and the country at large.
The employer-employee relationship should not be merely looked at with the economic lens only but also through a human lens of mutual dependency.
The employer should look beyond the employee in this kind of relationship, meaning they would know that there are several dependents down the line who look up to breadwinners like Tendai for their survival.
Likewise the employee has to put in more than just the day’s eight-and-a-half hours of work.
There are other issues that come into play. Things like loyalty, reporting early for work, giving enough notice when intending to leave the organisation, candour and respect are key to this relationship and when positively interwoven, the employer and employee enjoy a cordial relationship with less or no disputes at all.
You have no doubt heard of employees going for months without pay but they still report for work as they are reluctant to risk moving to an unknown organisation where they can perhaps be less confident about their future job security.
Such employers would understand beyond their workers, meaning they realise the employee has a family behind him and perhaps other dependents from the extended family. This may only happen if the employee has earned the trust of the employer.
Today, jobs are hard to come by. Hundreds of companies have closed down, throwing thousands of employees onto the streets and joined thousands others who were already jobless.
Those companies that have remained operational have not remained so because they have fat bank accounts. Instead, a combination of factors have kept them afloat but key among these could be streamlining of operations, kicking out non-productive deadwood and focusing on core activities of the company thus avoiding unnecessary costs.
The environment in which most organisations are operating has remained very tight and employees must be the first to understand their organisations’ predicaments.
When the employee understands thus, the employer usually displays a moral obligation of making sure that the welfare of the employees is catered for.
This does not have to be a good salary and favourable working conditions but there should be a real and enduring concern for employees.
Employees should feel free to raise ethical or other moral issues without fear of victimisation by managers as this might have an endangering effect on the organisation.
In any case, the workplace becomes more like a second home since they spent most of their time there. On average, most full-time employees spent no less than eight hours at work, meaning they are away from home for the bulk of their day’s time.
Employees should also have moral obligations which should go beyond giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.
This relationship should not only be cemented by a well-crafted contract of employment but should also exist a sociological contract which focuses on economic, political and cultural activities of people governed by values of good faith and fair dealing and motivation to sustain the relationship over time.
Such contracts characterise a wide range of personal relationships of which marriage is the best example. “Through sickness and in health” is a well-founded statement in the Bible to break the uncertainty. The sociological contract integrates insights from economic and sociological perspectives on labour market movement.
The mutual dependency is at play only when the employer provides work and the employee provides his labour without conditions attached and as such both are highly valued possessions that have an impact on the lives of employees, the organisation, their families, society and country at large.
The employer-employee relationship should be like a marriage which in turn makes a family and this family breeds a society in which people ethically live. The relationship should be centred on proving work and moral obligations and should be laden with moral responsibilities.
*Varaigwai is a sociologist, human resources practitioner, educationist as well as labour consultant. He writes here in his personal capacity. Varaigwai can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org