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Trapped in time

I have no doubt whatsoever that Tony Zarb, secretary general of the General Workers' Union, thinks he "is just doing his job in the best interests of Maltese workers". I am also convinced he is working hard to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, he is performing in a time warp and is oblivious to the drastic change in what, today, constitutes the "interest of the workers".

According to the public at large the roles of trade unions cover the negotiation of conditions of work and protection of workers, protests against government measures that negatively affect workers collectively and to negotiate wages and salaries.

Workers' empowerment, unfortunately, received no mention. Organisations are run, managed and kept "alive" by people. People are not inanimate objects. They are not static. They need to develop, to progress and be able to reach higher goals and objectives.

"Hard-working, motivated, satisfied employees will undoubtedly support the organisation when facing a turbulent environment. By offering them training, the opportunities to enhance their skills and move up the professional ladder, they will become the support structure of the firm and ultimately contribute to its competitive advantage." (Allbusiness 2002)

While "the GWU feels that education programmes for workers provided by public organisations and private agencies should not focus only on training but should also encompass broader issues that deal with the worker as man", under its section Work To Serve Man (GWU's Beliefs) the GWU whips up nonsensical arguments resisting change, thus hampering management from modernising and restructuring to enable local enterprise compete on a level playing field in the global labour market.

It has been held that as we enter the 21st century, companies become less competitive on products and markets and more on competencies, relationships and innovations. Lepak and Snell (1998) point out that talent might be one of the rarest commodities and that the people are the most important asset within the organisation. "In order to survive and overcome the threats that competition might pose, the organisation must have a reliable workforce making it unique and strong and able to rise above the immediate competitive environment" (Wright and McMahan, 1992).

Amazingly, the GWU contends: "Unfortunately, competition is being used to introduce strategies directed at the labour force in the workplace, which makes one believe that man was created to serve production rather than the opposite". Rubbish! The raison d'etre of any enterprise is to offer an optimum service as well as generate a profit and that will only happen with skilled, happy and satisfied workers. The raison d'etre of a human resource management department is precisely to empower a multi-tasked worker.

The GWU warns: "There is also a movement to deal with workers individually instead of collectively to weaken solidarity". What warped logic is that? A company invests heavily in developing programmes and in-house training as it believes intrinsic motivation generates job satisfaction!

The GWU's heresies continue: "HRM has replaced personnel management... that the worker serves the central objectives of the firm without the worker becoming the focal point". Excuse me, but can the GWU remove its blinkers! HRM deals not only with the company but also with rewards and appraisal schemes to motivate the worker! Through attractive incentives the worker benefits, works harder and, consequently, contributes further to the well being of the company! They both benefit!

"HRM should not be practised in an orthodox manner as in this way it would be exploiting and dehumanising the worker" - arghhh - totally the opposite! Through training and education the worker becomes a valuable, indispensable resource.

"It is not believed that, in Malta, HRM has been widely introduced in such a manner for the simple reason that only a handful of firms have in fact adopted HRM as a strategy. Most have only changed the nameplate from personnel to human resources management". Wrong again! The functions of the departments are separate and distinct: interviewing, selection processes, incentives for sales force, training etc. fall under HRM and not personnel! (The day-to-day personnel record keeping and routine stuff is now in the hands of information technology. This gives more time to the staff to work on the important stuff.)

"HRM should consider the worker as a human being in his totality". Hello, that is exactly what HRM is all about! For the benefit of the GWU the main functions of human resource management are: selection, appraisal and incentives/ rewards, training. All focus is placed on empowering the worker.

Incentives are not only monetary but are also work related. For the umpteenth time: by bestowing more responsibility workers feel more significant, increasing self-confidence, job satisfaction and ultimately, production.

The GWU's last but not least blasphemous statement: "Rather than providing the worker with information, it should develop his talents and skills and provide the worker with a new set of analytical tools that would enable him to develop his personality and working capacity. In such a way, HRM would be developing the enterprise and the workforce at the same time". Ding-a-ring-ding! The worker also needs information in order to experience a sense of belonging and to keep up-to-date with the company that s/he works for!

Incredibly, the Beliefs of the GWU continue to reinforce my belief that this union is solidly stuck in the past and is completely out of touch with the modern way of doing things. There are old ways and new ways of creating and protecting jobs. Taking to the streets is definitely not "in the interest" of today's workers!

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