Firms should prioritise staff welfare in wake of Covid-19

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020 00:00 |
Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi. Photo/File

Lucy Ndegwa 

As the coronavirus pandemic turns the world upside down, businesses in Africa and across the globe are finding themselves in a catch-22 situation.

On one hand, the disruption occasioned by the disease is already painting a bleak economic outlook, with pay cuts and layoffs being considered to slash business running costs and stay afloat.

On the other hand, these companies have to take into consideration welfare of staff, who derive livelihoods from it and would be impacted by layoffs and pay cuts.

It does not help that this unprecedented pandemic remains largely uncertain.

No one can say for sure when the coast will be finally clear for business to roar back to life.

In addition to this, even when business resumes, the future is blurred with risk of a lull kicking in initially or snowballing into the forecasted full-blown economic recession on a global scale.

With every additional confirmed infection and death, the noose tightens around neck of executives to pull the plug to maintain the business as a going concern.

Productivity is at bare minimum, revenues are dwindling or totally drying up, with no reprieve in sight, yet there is payroll, alongside other fixed costs.

Besides, the pandemic has introduced some new budget lines to cater for personal protective equipment, sanitiser, face masks, among others, in addition to the pressure to demonstrate good corporate citizenship by supporting causes against the virus. 

While many businesses are increasingly being left with no option but to close shop, or enforce a pay cut, others are rethinking their strategy to ensure business continuity.

This has been the case with Kitui County Textiles Centre that has taken up production of face masks to meet surging demand and keep staff in jobs.

This has helped it evade inevitable austerity measures as has been the case globally.

Many Kenyan flower firms that were amongst the first to be hit by the travel restriction froze pay and sent workers home.

In the midst of all this, some firms have taken the bold decision to publicly declare that no member of staff will be negatively impacted by the prevailing pandemic.

One such is Swiss firm Philip Morris International that is promising employment security and financial stability to its staff.

It argues that support to staff is an integral part of its efforts to address impact of the pandemic on communities.

In an announcement, the firm indicated that there will be no termination of employment during the crisis. 

On its part, Unilever has committed to protect its workforce from “sudden drops in pay, as a result of market disruption or being unable to perform their role, for up to three months”. 

The firm has undertaken to cover “employees, contractors and others who we manage or who work on our sites, on a full or part-time basis”.

This is in addition to supplying all staff with a weekly supply of safety hamper to keep the virus at bay.

MTN Group, on the other hand, has opted to raise a Sh225 million Global Staff Emergency Fund from directors, management and staff to support those amongst them worst affected by the pandemic. 

The bulk of enterprises, however, have had to rely on measures by governments to cushion them from effects of the pandemic.

So far, some of the worst affected industries have been aviation and hospitality, which play an important economic role, with restricted movement grounding operations. 

This is a difficult time for corporate leaders, striking a delicate balance to ensure long term interests of employees, alongside other stakeholder groups are taken into consideration.

It is also a good time for firms to demonstrate that they really care about the welfare of staff, in their times of desperation.  —The writer is HR Consultant and Managing Partner, Myers Group

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