Covid19 and The Labour Market – How The Development Sector Reacted in Zimbabwe.
Posted on 23 August, 2020 at 20:52
The World Economic Forum in its issue from the 25th of May 2020 estimated that about 2 out of every 5 jobs lost during Covid19 may never come back! That amounts to about 40% of pandemic-induced layoffs resulting in a permanent job loss. It is beyond any argument that COVID-19 will have profound, long-term consequences for the reallocation of jobs, workers, and capital across organisations and locations. While these job losses have a substantial impact the world over, the effects thereon in low-income countries, particularly in Africa, will be spectacular due the economic and social composition of these nations where the development sector not only employs significant populations but plays a key role in correcting marginal social imbalances.
In the Zimbabwean context, the situation is dire, for lack of more suitable superlative. A report titled Sustainable and Flexible Economic Interventions to Address Covid-19 released recently by the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) said 25% of the country's formal and 75% of the informal workforce are at risk. A significant portion of the formally employed population work directly or indirectly in the development sector and effects of Covid19 have not been kind to the majority.
When the pandemic struck the country in late March 2020, it disrupted all the normal day to day operations for the development sector. The programming and projects departments (which normally constitutes most of organisational staff) were made to cancel or hold operations since most of their work involves physically interacting with their beneficiaries. Most organisations anticipated that they were most likely going to shut down for short periods, around 2 months at most, as there were rumours of a cure or vaccine already under way. The reality though has been very different and devastating, as the country now nears the sixth month grappling under the effects of Covid19. Only skeletal staff has largely been allowed to return to work just to keep the operations on-going, with a few organisations of course having found a way to fully operate and retain their staff regardless of the circumstances. Salaries have been cut, in some instances by more than half, for staff that have been put on indefinite leaves, whilst the most unfortunate ones were entirely retrenched.
A survey done by KFM Consultants indicated that only 25% of organisations in the Zimbabwean development sector had effective policies and procedures in place to ensure that employees’ welfare was well catered for during a pandemic. This exposes a harsh truth on the realities of most employees who are the most vulnerable in these difficult times. On the other hand, it has to be noted and applauded that some few organisations really took the intentional effort to ensure that their staff’s welfare is maintained despite them not coming to work as a result of the virus.
1. Stakeholder Engagement – This entails having clear and honest conversations with all the stakeholders involved in this equation, key being the employees and the funding partners. It is important that organisational management, the board included, be a lot more involved in delivering clear and collaborated communication to the employees, whether or not their job prospects are in sight, and how best the organisation can support them to the best of its reasonable ability. Salary cuts must be communicated and justified at every level of the organisation. Engagement also needs to maintained at funding partners levels, explaining obtaining circumstances and how best they can help the organisation help itself.
2. Leveraging on Technology – Social distancing measures put in place at both workplace level and national level call for remote working. This means most the work now will have to be done from home and staff can be equipped to do so. Cloud technology has now become a critical part of organisational infrastructure and strategic planning got to be around fully utilising such tech. Programming workplans will have to revised and aligned to the new operational procedures which allow them to continue engaging their beneficiaries whilst respecting the health and safety measures. This will allow the organisation to retain its staff, manage the effects of the pandemic and the same time deliver on the mandates of funding partners.
3. Looking for new projects’ opportunities – The old adage that ‘when life give you lemons, make lemonade’ comes to mind in this instance. We are indeed in the midst of a health crisis which has altered our lives in many ways, but we can also attempt to look at the whole situation with a rather positive mind. Each organisation has an opportunity to holistically assess their situation, and look at what new avenues can be pursued in the interest of continuing to help our beneficiaries. New funding can be sourced or existing funds may be repurposed to fit new interests. The organisation can in that way continue engaging the services of their staff and even open doors for more staff coming on board.
The above are just a few pointers for organisations in the development sector in Zimbabwe to think around, but the conversation has to be escalated to all powers that be, and discussed in all corridors to help the staff during these difficult times. The ultimate goal is that we all survive the pandemic, thus we can either sink or swim together.