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PRODUCTIVITY: WHERE DOES THE PROBLEM LIE? By Ken Howell

posted 31 Oct 2019, 11:53 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 31 Oct 2019, 12:14 ]
The question of productivity is sometimes a very contentious issue. It involves labour and the capitalist who invest in a production process, from which he intends to reap super profits, by extracting as much as he can from the labour power of his employees, in exchange for less and less wages.

One of the pet peeves of employers in this country is this perception that the workers are to blame for the existence of low productivity. They consistently argue that workers are not producing while the banks and the local conglomerates make super profits each year. They complain that their employees have poor work ethics as a result absenteeism is high, workers are frequently late for work and these incidents affect productivity. Who is to be blamed for these kinks in the performance of the workforce?

Well in most instances, the employers pay little attention to the design of the work environment and the needs of the workers. In most instances the question of occupational health and safety is usually
an after-thought.

But when we speak of productivity what are we speaking about? The Oxford English Dictionary defines productivity as: 1) the state of being able to produce something in large quantities and: 2) the efficiency with which things are produced.

It follows, therefore, that a large part of the responsibility is to ensure that the production process is capable of achieving whatever production targets it was designed to achieve. In addition, it must be done on time and with a great deal of efficiency. While labour power is an important factor in the production process, it is important to bear in mind that the employees who expend labour power function under supervision in the work environment.

Even in situations where there is a recognised union, there are terms and conditions governing the employer-employee relations. Most agreements begin by recognising the right of management to manage the particular enterprise and consistent with that right the agreement will include the existing hours of work which existed in the undertaking prior to the union gaining recognition in the company.

In addition, other terms and conditions which formed part of the workers contract of employment prior to the union gaining recognition are usually taken on board after favourable adjustments are made. I am saying all of that to say that no collective agreements that I am aware of has taken away the right of the management to manage their enterprise.

Where the trade union comes in is when the employers seek to interpret the collective agreement in a manner which infringes the rights of the worker or groups of workers, by seeking to deny them benefits to which they are entitled. Then there is usually the question of health and safety which the management is sometimes reluctant to manage properly because of the cost.

When the workplace is not properly ventilated and finished products are stacked in places where they inhibit the free flow of air and the safe movement of workers in the work environment it also creates cramped work spaces. These occurrences affect the worker’s ability to function properly.

These and many other situations, which occur on a daily basis in the workplace can and do affect productivity. In addition, some companies choose to purchase machinery from external sources, which were written off the books of the previous owner and were sitting in a warehouse for quite some years. These are the types of machinery which workers are required to work with in some companies. As a result, it is not unusual for the production process to experience frequent break downs.

Then there is the question of the administrative staff both in the public and private sector. In the Public Service which includes the State Sector, there is the old public service structure which is a relic of the colonial era, with systems which require employees to work with an out-dated filing system which sometimes make it impossible to locate important documents when they are sorely needed.

There is also the out-dated promotion system which seems to recognise seniority over competency and the tedious public service regulations which are a relic of our colonial past. But in the face of the monumental obstacles which these out-dated systems present the public servants are still able to keep the government running.

Although the so-called state sector seems to be structured along the lines of companies in the private sector, they suffer from political interference which render them vulnerable to nepotism and exposes them to becoming the feeding ground for elements whose only desire is to accumulate wealth during their tenure at the helm of these enterprises at the expense of the public purse.

Therefore, the question of productivity in these institutions is affected by the perception that they are the legitimate feeding grounds for elements who serve the respective political parties thereby aiding their ascendancy into high political office.

It goes without saying therefore that the question of productivity in the public service is difficult to quantify, because the nature of the respective functions is to produce what might be described as intangible materials; although, in almost every instance these so-called intangibles are important links in the tapestry of the workings of the system of government as dysfunctional as it sometimes is.

Mo
st companies usually have organisational, charts. These charts spell out the lines of authority, such as who is reporting to whom and their respective areas of responsibility. This means that there are always in place persons with the authority to manage every aspect of the operations of a company. In such circumstances, the quantity of items produced and the efficiency with which it is done is a function of the management who is tasked with the responsibility to supervise the operations at every stage of the process.
Also, the quantity of items produced and the efficiency with which it is produced, depends on the tools with which the workers are required to work. This includes the structure and layout of the production process. In the end the ability of the enterprise to meet the demands of the market and the speed and efficiency with which it is done will determine whether the definition of productivity is met.

Sometimes increase in the output of the products supplied by an enterprise may not be synchronized with the demand in the market at the particular point in time. As a result, in cases where the product is not perishable, the company will stockpile the product and layoff the workers. In such circumstances, therefore, increased productivity is not in the best interest of the workers. In the final analysis, therefore, an increase in productivity is determined by the demands of the market and the capacity of the enterprise to satisfy such demands.

The role of the labour power of the workers in such circumstances is also dependent on the demand in the market for the supply of labour power. Where such demand exists the enterprise that is in the market with the intention to purchase labour power usually indicates the skill sets, qualifications, years of experience and the nature of the position in the company that it is seeking to fill. 

The attempts of the employers to put the blame on the workers for the perception that there is a decline in the level of productivity cannot be sustained. It is the out-dated systems in the public service and the various utilities, the nepotism in the state sector and the inefficiency of the management systems in the private sector which have to bear responsibility for the perceived state of affairs. That is where the problem lies.
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