• Thursday, Jul 02, 2020
  • Last Update : 11:20 am

OP-ED: Human resource management during a pandemic

  • Published at 08:29 pm June 4th, 2020
rmg worker
Every employee counts / REUTERS

How to make life better for both employers and employees during the coronavirus crisis

The world is facing an unprecedented economic turmoil as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds its impact across the globe. This recession triggered by the coronavirus may cause damage that could surpass the great depression in the 1930s and the turbulent economy after the Second World War.  

Some common issues that are most likely to arise all over the world include the food crisis, unemployment, liquidity crisis, transportation problems, remittance shortage, fall in export, shutdown of industries, and so on.  

Our ability to recover from this predicament lies with our capability to face all these sudden impediments head-on to gain sustainable competitive advantage and to ensure excellent employment relationships through effective human resource management (HRM) practices. To overcome this arduous trial, the directors and top executives in the upper echelon of the hierarchy must come together with all the employees and apply some strategies that can benefit all the parties. 

HRM departments need to reschedule their working hours during this period of crisis. We are well aware that factories and establishments are facing difficulties in their operations due to the shortage of workers. Thus, to ensure smooth production of goods and services, employees from all levels of the organogram must come together to make a consensus decision that can benefit all the stakeholders within the organization. 

Factories and establishments operating in Bangladesh must rearrange their procedure, schedules, working hours, and job rotation so that they may have a fighting chance to survive this ongoing financial crisis in Bangladesh.  

Therefore, rather than laying-off the employees leading Bangladesh to face the repercussions of massive unemployment, the factories and establishments may instead adopt a strategy to reduce the working hours of their workforce, which can benefit all the parties of the company. However, this would be difficult to impose on the workers/labour as their salary is really low compared to mid-level managers or employees.   

Factories and establishments all around the globe are facing a scarcity of demand for their goods and services, resulting in the factories and establishments incurring astronomical financial losses. Factories and establishments in Bangladesh are no stranger to such predicaments and, thus, are in dire need of strategies that will help them to cut costs without having to lay-off their workforce. 

The employees working for these factories and establishments are crucial assets with a specialized skill set that allows factories and establishments to retain their value while aiding factories and establishments to provide superior value to their customers. 

The prime minister, with the guidance of Bangladesh Bank, has taken the initiative to give subsidies to factories and establishments operating in different industries so that they may not lay-off their workforce.  

Therefore, factories and establishments that are planning to maintain their competitive edge must reengineer their employees’ benefits to reduce their employees’ overhead costs. Factories and establishments are still racking their brains out, trying to figure out how to make the best use of their human capital when they do not have adequate demand for their goods and services.  

The subsidies provided by the government will not last long. Now the real question that all factories and establishments must answer is whether the financial support provided to retain the employees will outlast the low demand for the company's goods and services.  

Thus, factories and establishments, keeping the benefit of the employees in mind, need to come up with ways to reduce the financial and non-financial benefits without having to reduce the size of the workforce. Therefore, they need to sit with the Trade Union or Workers Welfare Association, where they can come to terms on how to reduce the cost of the company without having to shrink the workforce.  

Six issues to be addressed 

  1. Ensure a compensation policy that is adequate to satiate employees’ daily expenses. 
  2. Ensure flexible working hours that will allow them to make full use of the technologies within their disposal so that they may work from home. 
  3. A return to work policy must be submitted, which includes methods to verify whether the employees are infected with the Covid-19 virus. 
  4. Identify the personnel who are most vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus, and thus, equip them with the gears to protect themselves throughout the pandemic. 
  5. Come up with policies to restrict the child daycare services to reduce the contagion from the virus among the employees. 
  6. Re-define the sick leave policy. This should include the employee’s right to care for their family members who have been or is suspected of having coronavirus. 

A new labour law 

The government, in an urgent basis, needs to amend the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 as amended in 2018, to incorporate new provisions for work from home policy that will ease the transition of factories and establishments towards having flexible workstations.  

The law also needs to incorporate the technologies available, which may include different avenues available for working from home. In such cases, factories and establishments must consider the employees as full-time employees and, therefore, pay average salaries to the employees. 

Imposing of restrictions on any retrenchment of workers for a particular period may support the workforce during these tough times. For white collar employees, there is, as such, no job security clause in Bangladesh by labour law. The government may look into developing laws for white collar employees to guide better industrial working environments.  

Alternatives to lay-offs 

  1. The factories and establishments can ask their employees to go for unpaid leave, or furlough employees. 
  2. The furloughed employees can work for other employees as long as they do not work within the working hours of the previously held position. 
  3. Through consensus, factories and establishments can go for progressive pay cuts for a short period. 
  4. Factories and establishments can adopt a piece-rate system (payment which is proportionate to the work done) since employees working from home do not need to work consistently 8 hours per day. 
  5. Factories and establishments which are cutting costs may only provide a basic salary rather than offering other fringe benefits. 

Mutual respect, sympathy, and affection may protect us from the upcoming catastrophe of industrial turmoil and uncertainty of the industrial atmosphere. We should bear in mind that the coronavirus aftermath may be deadlier than that experienced during wartime. There is no alternative to cooperation and wholehearted support in this distressing time.  

The government authorities and industrialists need to be more empathetic during the upcoming recession. They need to be well-prepared ahead of time to secure salary, improve productivity, and ensure more safety and hygiene in operations. 

They need to use flexible and transparent HRM practices with the aim of employee performance development aligned with organizational sustainability. 

Mohammad Khasro Miah, PhD, is a Professor at the School of Business and Economics and the Director of Career and Placement Center, North South University. He may be reached through [email protected]

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