Improving National Productivity Will Not Be Easy

There is a problem with the call for improvement in productivity. Those calling for it will not be the ones working harder. The experiment was tried in the 1970s when many UK factories moved in the time and motion guys and started timing machinists.

Unions and workers saw them coming, however. Before they even got going unions tied management down with a new contract that guaranteed workers would not be put on a lower rate if the business ran out of orders. They would be paid at the previous month's average rate when walking around doing very little.  This was done to make sure employees would not lose income due to them working harder. Furthermore, when foremen, leading hands and motion "experts" started milling around a machine workers knew what was about to happen. An older naturally slower machinists was soon moved in and lathe speeds were reduced.  Considering the motion timers had never seen capstan lathes before this was an easy trick.

It took several years before management caught on to what was going on. Ultimately, workers did work harder. They moved up the machinist grades A, B, C and D. Thus improving their pay per task. Obviously, they speeded up machines and produced more per hour to increase overall income.

In the long run businesses failed to make a profit. Paying employees to work harder then continuing to pay them at the same rate when work ran out was plainly stupid. A country needs easy dismissal laws to make a more flexible workforce, a nervous workforce in fear of being sacked.

It must be remembered that a monitored worker must be watched by someone.  Extra staff like a separate time and motion division was a costly burden. Every new product made for new tasks. Time and motion was working harder than anyone.

BHP Billiton CEO Andrew Mackenzie is banking on a Coalition win in the next election to change industrial relations laws. Let us hope he is right because business needs a boost. Changing a country's working culture is very difficult though. Pumping money into timing employees raises costs. And workers will duck and weave to block any change forced on them.

 Source: Based on Wellworthy Engineering, a factory in Ringwood, Hampshire, England.
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