National vision — key to improving productivity

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At the moment in Zimbabwe, productivity is like democracy. It is on everybody’s lips and means different things to different people. Productivity can be defined in many ways but in simple terms, it is the relationship between input and output. The term “productivity” is often confused with the term “production”. Increase in production does not necessarily equate to increase in productivity. Production relates to the volume of output whereas productivity refers to the ratio of efficiency of utilisation of different factors of production.
Productivity can be increased in many ways: increase output and decrease inputs; maintain output and reduce inputs; decrease output and decrease inputs by a greater amount; increase output and maintain constant inputs or increase output by a much greater proportion than the increase in inputs.
The old adage, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot control it” still rings true today.
It is impossible to improve productivity or even control existing productivity unless one can measure what one hopes to control and improve. Each industry or company has its own criteria for making the business “tick”. In retail industries productivity may relate to per shop assistant; in a bank to customers served per hourand so on.
Comparisons should be made against a specific competitor within the industry or against world class best practice. It is naturally easier to measure productivity in manufacturing, mining and agriculture but more difficult when it comes to service industries. However, it should be appreciated that raising service sector productivity has become critical to economic growth in every country of the world.
The system of labour-management relations in Zimbabwe today has unfortunately been characterised by confrontation rather than co-operation. Labour unions, for their survival, frequently promote an “us-versus-them” adversarial mentality among workers.
Perhaps paradoxically, that confrontational approach will not only compromise productivity but also see the demise of those very unions. A paradigm shift in union philosophy is required sooner rather than later. Unions must desist from what economist Eric Bloc in 2009 referred to as “suicidal demands of labour”. He was referring to union demands for a Poverty Datum Line-based wage of about $500 against very low levels of capacity utilisation.
Minister Biti in the 2010 National Budget metaphorically referred to a hunting economy where we can only “eat what we kill”. Even the Bible says one can only reap where one has sown! While workers have a right to a living wage and fair working conditions, they also have a responsibility to improve productivity. There has to be a quid pro quo between management and labour on the issue of productivity.
Some employers believe that workers must not share gains of increased productivity. This rather insular view can only lead to industrial strife. Those employers who belong to this old school of thought should understand that the running of an enterprise is a co-operative endeavour (reminds me of the late musician System Tazvida of the Mushandi Ndimambo fame!). The fruits of productivity should be shared fairly by both parties.
The community must also have a share in the benefits of increased productivity, in the form of lower or stable price levels. Zimbabwe can no longer remain insulated from global market forces. Calls have been made for the establishment of a National Productivity Centre since the introduction of ESAP in the 1990s. The establishment of such a centre might well assist in the development of a well-articulated vision of productivity. However, there has been more noise rather than action as far as this issue is concerned. Preaching without practice does not work — you are soon seen as a hypocrite.
The world is not short of success stories examples to which we can benchmark ourselves. After World War II the Japanese economy was in the doldrums. By 1975 Japan had surpassed the world in quality and productivity. What is required is that government, business and labour come together to establish a national vision on productivity growth. Government should create favourable conditions for employers and workers to raise productivity. Employers should take responsibility for raising productivity starting at enterprise level.
A national productivity vision remains the starting point for Zimbabwe to improve its economic prospects. Productivity problems faced by Zimbabwe and its subsequent lack of competitiveness in the global market lie fairly and squarely at the doorsteps of government, business and labour. It is the responsibility of these tripartite partners to articulate the way forward. As Margaret Mead famously proclaimed, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
l Isaac Mazanhi is a member of the Emcoz Labour Committee. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Emcoz. Contact 0913 063 653 or e-mail: isaacm2010@gmail.com