Preparing workers for imminent changes, disruption
Globalisation has become a dominant issue with the potential of enriching not only national economies but also the workplace.
It also increases productivity, profitability while easing task performance.
However, certain changes such as privatisation, deregulation, liberalisation, subsidies removal, casualisation, downsizing, rightsizing, rationalisation, recapitalisation, merger and acquisition among others, have made globalisation very unpopular among workers, especially in developing countries.
Understandably, in recent times, anti-globalisation protests have increased all over the world as a form of resistance to the changes.
In examining the situation, The Guardian identifies some strategies for managing resistance to changes and focuses on how and why workers resist changes emanating from globalisation both within and outside the work organisations.
“I am a graduate and work in one of the multinational firms in Lagos, as a factory worker. We are over 500 working in the factory but many of us were later disengaged because the company deployed some automated machines to execute some of the jobs. I am back in the labour market in search of another job.”
This is the experience of Jude Makwe during a chat recently as he narrated how a change in the operation of the organisation he worked for affected him.
This sort of expression is now a singsong amongst many Nigerians that lost their jobs to the emergence of automation in the workplace.
Since 2016, Adetayo Oresanya, an employee of a fast-rising manufacturing company with a head office at Opebi, Ikeja area of Lagos State, and a production plant at Ijebu-Ode in neighbouring Ogun State, has lived in fear of losing his job to machines and robots.
Oresanya’s fear, which has also affected his self-confidence at work, arises from the fact that the snack- and drink-producing companies that he works for recently decided that it would adopt new technologies to boost productivity and keep up with the fierce competition in the fast-moving consumer goods market.
The tone of Oresanya’s voice betrays his fear about his uncertain future as he recalls how, between November 2016 and December 2017, the company sacked about 100 workers at the Ijebu-Ode factory and replaced them with machines.
Worried by the management’s sudden preference for artificially intelligent machines, he says, “the machine-to-machine connection is programmed in such a way that it is rare to find any error in the line of production. Most times, these machines clap, jump, gesticulate and respond to production situations just like humans.
“Where we human workers make mistakes, these machines correct them. It is so bad that we have been reduced to mere machine operators, supervisors, cleaners and watchers.”
Like many of his surviving colleagues, he is also scared that further automation will most likely render him jobless.
He feels that if this happens, his world might just crumble like a pack of cards and the impact on many members of his family, including his wife and children, who depend on him for their upkeep, will be indescribable.
“So far, I have been lucky not to have been sacked before now and some of my senior colleagues say so. But in this era of computerised machines, there is a limit to which my luck can be stretched,” he added.
Automation, which is now emerging as a real threat to jobs worldwide could be seen in how change management has affected organisations
Some see most jobs at risk of automatisation, while others argue robots will only take on a narrow range of tasks in the coming decades.
The National Union of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) had raised an alarm over the increasing rate multinational companies operating in Nigeria are deploying robots and automated machines to execute jobs that human beings can do.
The union stresses the urgent need for government to weigh in on the development to forestall massive unemployment.
The union argues that Nigeria is not matured for automated machines and robots to take over jobs meant to be done by humans, noting that government should tackle youth unemployment and ensure the common man can comfortably provide meals for his family before such could be introduced to local industries.
President of the NUFBTE, Lateef Oyelekan, calls on the Federal Government to prevail on companies already using robots to stop, stressing that the union had already petitioned the Federal Government on the matter through the Minister of Labour and Employment.
Prof. Akindotun Merino of Africamentalhealth in his book titled ‘Leading and managing organisational change’, says every change begins with a leadership decision.
According to him, deciding to institute changes is not always easy. Being prepared, planning well and being surrounded by a good team will make that decision a lot easier.
He said that not everyone would agree on the change.
“Keep in mind that these types of feelings are normal, as people generally do not enjoy change and are sometimes made nervous by it. You will likely encounter pushback and resistance from several team members. Provide facts and data to show why the change is happening and reassure them of the need and benefits of the change. These types of individuals are best suited to be educated about the change with information.
“To continue increasing awareness and to build a desire to support the upcoming change; the change management team must reach out to the organisation at large,” he said.
To Chris Onyema, he said for organisations to thrive they must adapt to change, noting that when change comes, there is fear and panic.
He said as organisations build with time so also trade unions must adapt to change since it is social change that created trade unions.
According to him, it is the responsibility of trade unions to understand that all the facets of change are understood by its operative to key into its benefits to ensure that trade unions remain relevant not just now but in the future.
The labour expert speaks about how the movement had engaged the government to enact policies to ensure that the jobs of workers are protected even while society is changing.
“We also engage employers to ensure those harmful effects of change in the workplace will not affect workers negatively. Mediative actions are taken so that the right equipment is provided so that workers will not be negatively affected. We are already involved in it and we are constantly redefining our roles, repositioning ourselves and the trade union movement to work better, “ he said.
The President and Chairman of Council, Institute for Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (ICSAN), Taiwo Owokalade, says corporate governance looks like the best method to drive organisations to its desired objective and technology is a powerful and effective means to do this not minding the implication to manpower.
He said the onus is on the management and leadership, to articulate corporate objectives, and utilise effective stakeholders’ management tools in achieving same.
He said one of the very great responses to the pandemic has been the huge reliance on technology, which brings up the need for staff rationalisation and associated implications.
“Of course, the unions saw this as a threat to their existence and resisted. Although unions and their representatives know that there is very little or no alternative to the introduction of technology, however, their resistance is understandable and expected,” he said.
A lawyer, Paul Omoijiade, notes that workers are part of the organisation and must be carried along and the union must be consulted where there will be changes in organisations.
“When you are talking of changes, you go through the old collective agreement. In an industrial relationship, the trade union and the workers play a significant role. In the Labour Act, there is provision for a redundancy payment,” he said.
He said for organisations to reduce resistance, they need to get the buy-in of employees and stakeholders, adding that the trade unions are supposed to negotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and exit package.
He urges unions to be alive to their responsibilities, as what is happening in recent times does not give room for cheers.
He says unions must be proactive, while management must ensure changes have a human face and the government must avoid policy somersault that will bring about radical changes.