None so blind as those who …

2008-01-28 00:00

Last week I devoted my column to a report in England that claimed British workers are bored. Your responses have been tremendous, but I do think that some missed the point I was trying to make.

A number of readers related the boredom issue back to worker productivity and then proceeded to comment on money being only one consideration to take into account. Of equal importance are such things as workplace atmosphere and enhancing this with, for example, motivational background music and décor. Also cited was a need for managers to do more “chatting” with labour. If the subject wasn’t so serious, I could have had a good laugh at some of the comments made, but unfortunately, it is serious and not a laughing matter.

Between the early 1960s and the late 1970s, the UK manufacturing output fell from over 60% of GDP to under 15% of GDP, as it remains today. The reason for this appalling statistic was worker apathy, leading to atrocious levels of productivity and excessive production costs. Added to this, product quality and service went for a ball and chalk — result, total demise of manufacturing enterprise.

Now, I have to say to you that South Africa, in manufacturing terms, could be said to be on exactly the same treadmill. We have lost and will continue to lose manufacturing output, for the simple reason that our labour is not committed to the task.

At a time when we should be targeting world market-share of manufacturing output, we are losing ground. Our labour is not interested in producing an above-average performance. However, our situation is discernibly more severe than it was throughout the UK in the 1960s and ’70s. It was Freud who said that repression leads to frustration. I believe he could have gone on to say that if the circumstances do not improve, frustration can lead to aggression. Our labour, up to 1994, experienced repression equivalent to 7.2 on the Richter scale. Certainly that “repression” did lead to frustration. Unfortunately, more than a decade later, the rank-and-file African worker in our country is feeling let down by his own leadership and that frustration is being demonstrated with increasing militancy.

Another important difference between the UK and South Africa is the significance of tribal heritage coupled with extreme levels of poverty. Violence tends to go hand in hand with poverty.

Unless we do something to eliminate poverty from our country, then violence will escalate, possibly to levels of making the country ungovernable.

The answer to these various factors, the answer to producing continuous improvement to economic growth, is in the hands of our workers. In order for the key to prosperity to be turned, we must understand the significant and vital role played by the individual and collective workers. Acceptance of this should lead to the replacement of the existing remuneration structures that have been in place for time and eternity and are responsible for economic demise. We need to put in place remuneration systems that allow every individual to earn as much as possible, as opposed to the minimum negotiated annually — Rainbow.

In anticipation of readers jumping down my throat and citing India and China as wonderful examples for us to aspire to, let me say that both these countries are also tottering on the brink of anarchy. Poverty is rife in both countries — labour is being exploited by the “barons” of both countries. It is only a matter of time before consensus will rule.

The annoying and stupid thing about this is that it needed to come to anarchy. There are ways and means available today of growing wealth and sharing that wealth more equitably. We simply need to adopt an attitude of mind that courts change. Equally importantly, we need to truly understand the corrosive nature of greed.

frankgreenfield@iafrica.com

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