Improving Productivity through Better Workers, Jobs and Life

11 May, 2014

Lost or damaged check-in luggage, poor customer service, airline worker strikes – these are common issues faced by us when we travel to different parts of the world. I don’t think the airline sets out to “sabotage” your flight experience but more of a case of unmotivated workers who might not receive the right training and/or tools to improve their productivity and keep their work interesting.

The lack of training and help in improving productivity will create a vicious cycle in workers’ attitude to their job – as can be seen in how some baggage handlers at Guangzhou Airport “handled” baggage. The way they did things was simply not productive – not only do the luggage get damaged, they would be spending more time picking up the dropped luggage and putting them back up the conveyor belt!

As Mr Lim Swee Say, Secretary-General NTUC puts it during the recent May Day Rally:

“In Singapore, most things work better than other places.

  • Our taps still run during dry spells.
  • Our utility supply is reliable.
  • Our food supply is clean and sufficient.
  • Our city is safe and secure.
  • Our HDB homes are well designed, built, maintained and upgraded.
  • Our students are tops in problem solving.
  • Our loved ones are well taken care of when they are not well.”

I can’t say the same about these basic public services in other countries. It would be really sad if we don’t care about our workers who work tirelessly behind the scene to make things work. That’s why it was heartening to hear about the government’s commitment to invest heavily in education at all levels, with an added push in adult education. During the recent May Day Rally, PM Lee spoke about the need for workers to constantly upgrade in order to maintain a competitive advantage against foreign talent and automation. He assured that the Government would do its best to help workers improve themselves, and ensure that they have better jobs.

Taking up the labour movement’s push for “cheaper, better, faster” operations to gain a competitive edge, he said: “We can also say better, better, better.” In other words, better workers, better jobs and better lives, he said.

Apart from creating jobs, the Prime Minister said firms need to raise productivity by tapping government schemes. “Take advantage of these programmes, make the effort to upgrade,” he urged.

Unions play a key role in these changes. The strength of tripartism is what differentiates the effectiveness of unions operating in other countries (resorting to strikes and demands) versus unions in Singapore (where tripartism, collective bargaining and the Industrial Arbitration Court work hand in hand to ensure a fair deal for workers without resorting to inconvenient strikes).

NTUC’s push for a Progressive Wage Model over the last few years and the direction towards best sourcing of cleaning services through mandatory licensing of cleaning and security firms are just a few good examples of how tripartism had worked to bring about better jobs for workers via better employers who value workers, and better customers who value good outcomes.

After all, when you have motivated employees who find meaning in what they do, it also benefits the company in terms of better profits and more efficient and effective processes to meet your customers’ needs. Case in point being the “7-minute shinkansen theatre” where a team of shinkansen (bullet train) cleaning staff have to ensure that the whole train must be made spotlessly clean within seven minutes to get ready for the next group of passengers.

Despite not being particularly glamorous work, the group has received a lot of media attention over the years, and have been called Japan’s ‘strongest team’ by the Nikkei Business magazine.

When you create a reward system for better workers, better jobs and consequently better life for them, you will find that they will deliver better outcomes for you as can be seen in the highly motivated dancing flight attendants at Cebu Pacific who made the usual flight experience a little bit more interesting.

There are more examples of “better workers” in the airline industry e.g. with this hilarious Southwest Airline flight attendant reeling off the most hilarious one-liners while making routine safety announcements. You get the point – right? Better workers and Better jobs -> Better life and Better outcome for the company and customers 🙂

Zhiqiang & Tingyi

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