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Vulnerable workers

When reference is made to the “most vulnerable workers” in the society, the average person tends to identify with the low income earning groups within the employment sectors.

Where in the traditional scheme of things that is apt, the changing labour environment that features stiff competition for jobs both at the high and low ends, and where job losses is now evident, it may require a rethink as to who now makes up the group of the most vulnerable workers.

The experts contend that with the advent of globalisation and free trade, there has been a relocation of jobs. The downside to this is the relocation of jobs to countries where wages are lower. This has a twofold effect. Firstly, it has the potential to further depress incomes, and more significantly, it poses a major economic problem.

With businesses now operating in a fierce competitive climate, there is a demand for them to cut back and so keep their operating cost down. Their answer to this problem is addressed by way of displacing workers. Inasmuch that this is fast becoming the norm, it raises serious questions about job security.

If this is the accepted practice, then there is merit in the view expressed by

(Bolman & Deal, 2003) that, “Today job security is almost viewed as a thing of the past, a relic from paternalistic times”. This should tell us that those blue collar employees and professionals as we know them; should no longer rest on their laurels, as they too should see themselves as being vulnerable.

Given the previous existing economic conditions and the buoyancy of individual businesses, workers would have had a reasonable expectation of having fixed term employment. Many now have to face up to the reality of job insecurity. The competition for job placement can potentially transform the existing status quo, as it can contribute to low wages being paid, minimal benefits offered, and could result in stress, and burnout as individuals strive to cope with the demands and pressures of the job. This in itself gives new meaning to the term, “the working poor”.

What is now emerging is a society of workers who are fast being overrun with a fear of being laid off. This is regardless of whether they work within the public and/or private sector. Those who work in the public sector as part time employees or who are not appointed, live at the knife’s edge. Despite the promise of a no-lay off policy within the public sector, they have no guarantee of having their contracts extended.

All workers whether in the public or private sector who find themselves in this predicament, face the threat of a ruined career, and alas, a possible family crisis. There is also a negative side to this that ought not to be ignored by employers. They should not be blind to the fact that there is a greater sense of employee loyalty where there is job stability. Security of tenure can go a long way in motivating employees and in enhancing the employer-employee relationship.

Employers by their actions can be reasonably accused of contributing to an increasingly vulnerable work force. Some in following a programme of downsizing, dangle the preverbal carrot of involuntary separations packages before the eyes of employees. As would be expected, some do yield to the temptation.

The net result is that their acceptance of the offer provides the employer with the perfect opportunity to secure permanent layoffs, and so achieve the goal of attaining the level required staff for optimal adjustment to changing demands that the conditions warrant.

Whereas this indirectly represents the displacement of workers, the fact is that as the high cost of living takes its toll, they now become extremely vulnerable. Coupled with this is the likelihood of them not being able to find alternate employment. The fact that younger employees seem to have a preference for contract work which allows them to work for a given establishment over a period of two to three years, makes the competition for jobs even greater.

With rising unemployment as a growing feature of small island states, it would be interesting to learn of the findings of a Displaced Workers’ Survey that is commissioned in individual Caribbean countries. Equally so, it would be good information to have of the incidence of involuntary job looses over the past ten years, especially amongst groups of older workers, professionals and managers.

* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.

Visit our Website: www.regionalmanagementservicesinc

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