COVID-19: Firms Urged to Protect Employees’ Interest

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Peter Uzoho

Organisations have been advised to strike a delicate balance by ensuring long term interests of employees, alongside other stakeholder groups are taken into consideration, despite the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a report, this is the time for firms to demonstrate that they care about the welfare of staff.

It pointed out that in the midst of the uncertainty created by the pandemic, some firms have taken the bold decision to publicly declare that no member of staff would be negatively impacted by the prevailing pandemic.

It disclosed that one such firm was Philip Morris International that had promised employment security, financial stability and special recognition to its staff.

The firm argued that support to staff was an integral part of its efforts to address impact of the pandemic on communities.

In an announcement, the firm indicated that there would be no termination of employment during the crisis and all planned restructuring has been put on hold. Staff were also assured of compensation during this period, irrespective of their ability to deliver on their duties.

In a recent interview the Human Resources Director, Sub Saharan African Region, Philip Morris International, Khady M.N.Sarr, was quoted to have said: “It is precisely in such difficult and unprecedented circumstances that as an employer we need to stick together with our employees. Whatever the impact the COVID 19 crisis will have on our business, we commit not to terminate any employment and to continue paying salaries whether or not our colleagues can fulfill their professional obligations.

“People are our greatest assets and here we are putting our money where our mouth is.”

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, it stated was in addition to supplying all staff with a weekly supply of “safety hamper,” that includes hand sanitizer, hand wash, disinfectant and bleach. This is to help staff keep the virus at bay.

Similarly, the report disclosed that the MTN Group had opted to raise a KSh225 million (R40 million) Global Staff Emergency Fund from directors, management and staff to support those amongst them worst affected by the pandemic.

This is in addition to MTN Nigeria as disclosed in a notification by the company secretary, Uto Ukpanah.

“The bulk of enterprises however, have had to rely on measures by governments to cushion them from effects of the pandemic and safeguard livelihoods of staff. This has ranged from stimulus packages, tax relief, restructuring of credit and concessional financing.

“It is unlikely that these measures will be able to fully assuage demand for this much-needed leg up to totally avert job losses.

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

Furthermore, it pointed out that with the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in Africa and the rest of the world are finding themselves in a catch-22 situation.

“On one hand, the disruption occasioned by the highly contagious disease is already painting a bleak economic outlook for the short to long term, with pay cuts and layoffs being considered to slash running costs and stay afloat.

“On the other hand, these companies have to take into consideration welfare of staff in their employ, who derive livelihoods from the firm and would be impacted by the layoffs.

“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, normally or in whatever shape.

“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,” it added.

Continuing, it stated: “With every additional confirmed infection and death, the noose tightens around necks of executives to pull the plug to maintain the business as a going concern.”