Sunday, February 13, 2005

HR – Pro-Business or Pro-Labour

Many people think that you can be both pro business and pro labour. Indeed, as employees, we would like to think that if companies take care of employees, the business will thrive “naturally”. I for one seriously doubt it!

Caring for employees is one thing. But if we do it to the extent that it begins to border on “spoiling” them, then it is a step too far. The question is of course, when does caring become spoiling. If I knew where the sweet spot was, I would be a billionaire…

Have a look at countries around the region where labour legislation strongly favours employees and compare them with the situation in Singapore. We need not look far as Malaysia and Indonesia are example of countries with highly pro-labour legislation. Any business owner would want the freedom to manage his business the way he sees fit. If that means the removal of human resources that do not adequately “fit”, so be it. But just you try doing that in either Malaysia or Indonesia. You’d be hauled to a labour tribunal before you could say “compensation…”. In fact, it would not be so bad if all they ask you to do is compensate, but what you are sometimes forced to do is re-instate! Not only do you have to eat humble pie, the pie will be gratefully served to you by the previously dismissed employee!

Although it is far easier to “clean house” in Singapore, this kind of environment also makes it easy for employers who do not plan ahead and are poor managers of their human resources. And there are many out there. Such an environment does not sufficiently penalise such poor people managers who give all other “socially conscious” employers a bad name! On the part of employees, it breeds a lack of loyalty. Since job security is non-existent, employees do not feel much attachment for their employer and will move on at a drop of a hat (generally speaking of course).

So am I in favour of a pro-business or a pro-labour environment. Well, I am certainly pro-business. I believe that being pro-business creates a far better investment climate which will in turn create more jobs. What about the errant employers and the poor people managers who will sprout under such a regime? Well, for one, there will always be bad apples but I believe that in the internet era of easy information and fast communication, the market will “move” fast enough to sufficiently reduce their number as people shy away from wanting to be employed by such employers.

For Singapore, I hope I am right for all our sakes.


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