HOST: In your career as HR, you have had to confront tough HR issues. Kindly give us a brief one and how it was resolved.
GUEST: It is said that the HR function is, most of the time, a “cross to carry and a crown to wear”. Like a football coach you will always wear the “crown” as long as your team keeps winning but only one insignificant loss can bear you a lifetime “cross” that can destroy whatever gains you may have made.
One fine day, in my career, I had to carry out a management decision to “fish out” employees who had deliberately under-declared their ages to enable them stay longer on their jobs. The decision was collectively taken due to emerging trends of chronic diseases which were afflicting some of the employees and negatively impacting on service and productivity.
Since most workers had close affinity with SSNIT, I wrote to SSNIT to provide me with their true dates of birth. The outcome was a huge revelation which indicated that twenty employees had on the average reduced their ages by 6.5 years. This was in serious breach of our existing policy on Staff Declarations.
Majority of the affected were members of the Union so the Union entered the fray and tried to use brute force to intimidate management and get away with it. When we stood our grounds, they reported me to the then Minister of Tourism, using party affiliations.
The Minister invited the parties to the meeting and as the HR Manager I had to arrange for a hotel bus to transport us. So, the two adversaries were in the same bus and I can hardly relive the myriad of insults rained on me in the bus.
The Minister was very level-headed and listened to both sides. They had no evidence to back their case while I had loads of documentary evidence. Eventually he dismissed their case and backed the decision of management.
They suffered the appropriate penalties. It was one episode of experience that I have used to advise upcoming HRs to ensure that they write policies to back every action that they intend to take, in consultation with all stakeholders and the relevant sections of the Labour Laws.
HOST: Great! Documentation has also ‘saved’ me in some dire times during the course of my work.
Let’s revisit a labor issue caused by the pandemic. A casual employee who was among the first batch of lay-off workers intends to request for a permanent status of employment, should she be recalled. How practical is this request?
GUEST: A casual is an intermittent worker and does not require any permanent contract with the hotel. So, there is not much control by the hotel but based on performance, productivity and personal conduct, casuals can certainly enjoy the same rights of growth as other workers in the establishment
HOST: A research article I recently read shows that ‘times of crisis can provide some of the most important opportunities to deepen trust and commitment with employees in ways that not only ensure greater well-being for employees, but also position greater business success when the crisis is over.’ To what extent is this true in the Ghanaian hotel environment?
GUEST: This may largely be true in other jurisdictions, where a total business plan takes into account the worth of working people to the growth of their organizations. Unfortunately, our industries are not structured with such visionary insights. Here, bottom line are profits, here and now and the future is not factored into any unforeseen events.
Going forward, however, hotel operators should always take into account the strength of their workforce and apply it a way that can withstand any future shocks.
HOST: It has been suggested that Employers set up a crisis fund. What are your views?
GUEST: The burden hotel workers are going through, under this pandemic, makes this assertion relevant. Most hotels have various welfare schemes running but the foundations of these structures are very weak and weary.
As many as were sent home believed that they would soon be recalled. As the shutdown extended, workers started feeling the pangs of the closure and did not have anywhere to turn to.
Now, as they prepare to return to their workplaces, they would be filled with the fear of future job-security and sustainability. HR Managers have a huge task of assisting them to institute fund that schemes in the form of monthly “tithes” progressively serviced by the workers themselves. If, for example, in one hotel of an estimated 250 workers on an average monthly salary of GHC 800.00; if each worker contributes GHC 50.00 a month to a workers, one can imagine the amount of monies that could be generated in the space of a year. The year-on-year accruals cannot be imagined.
The most painful part of the closures was that even in hotels where workers had Unions existing, such bodies could not pay the workers any salaries when they were sent home and yet workers make financial contributions to the Unions every month.
So, the only way forward is to develop internally-generated funds operated and managed by the workers themselves to cushion them in the event of a “force majeure”.
Owners and Management of Hotels can also set aside bits of their profits as contingency to cushion workers during crises period.
As it stands now, most hotel workers have not been paid over the past three months. This pandemic, though threatening, is also pregnant with ideas which can be nurtured to protect them in any future situation.
HOST: The Coronavirus is placing new financial strains on many workers. What do you advise hotel Workers now at home do?
GUEST: Most of them are professionals; cooks, waiters, housekeepers, technicians, etc. Should they have wisdom and energy to regroup in the same form outside the Hotel, they can offer similar services to needy institutions, either as individuals or groups.
HOST: There are talks on working from home. Being among the service centered sectors this call does not favor the hotel industry, does it?
GUEST: This, to a large extent, is not practicable under our current circumstances. Hotel service is like being in a factory and feeding the machines with the raw materials. In far-fetched situation the Finance, HR, IT and Sales and Marketing departments may work from home.
HOST: Thank you, Mr. Hazel. We will discuss the way forward in our next session.