Dec 11, 2012

Workers can’t sit down, so governments should stand up

The "no sitting" rule at a major WA gas project suggests our national productivity drive is seriously off track. Governments should be investing in helping business do better.

So this is what Australia's productivity debate has come to? A week after it was announced the $52 billion Gorgon LNG project in Western Australia was a staggering $9 billion over budget, it has emerged the major contractors on the project have issued new rules designed to boost the productivity of workers and get costs back under control. The key measure in the rules: no sitting down. "Labour is not allowed to sit down during normal working hours, unless their duties require," the rules say, according to a reports. "Chairs and benches are not allowed on site unless used for work. Labour is allowed to sit during normal working hours in the approved shade huts for short rest breaks and hydration." Breaches of "discipline" will see wages being docked. It's all a little draconian and quite frankly a little silly. But clearly there are some serious problems on this project and everyone is pretty fed up -- although trying to blame everything on the "labour" (try calling your staff that today and see how far you get!) is pretty tough when you see this sort of thing coming down from management. Will it improve productivity? No idea, but maybe. Will any potential productivity gains be erased by treating workers in this way? Pretty likely, I’d say. To me, this incident again underlines the struggle that managers have around productivity -- we all know that it needs to improve, but finding ways to measure it and then practically raise productivity is not easy. The avalanche of reports and surveys and investigations that we have into productivity-related problems -- and it has been frankly never-ending this year -- help us identify problems, but do little to help managers find practical solutions. What I would like to see is governments spend money developing productivity toolkits. These kits, which would have to be produced across a variety of industries and businesses sizes, would provide managers with practical tools to:
  • Put in place systems and processes to measure and report on the productivity of their current workforce.
  • Advice on to how to use these results to find productivity improvements. That is, real, practical measures which managers can employ at a variety of levels, such as day-to-day productivity boosts and short, medium and long-term productivity projects.
  • Advice on how to engage staff and other stakeholders
This could be complemented with tailored consulting solutions for firms (who I am sure would be happy to meet subsidised costs) and in-depth training for managers. We must find ways to take productivity out of the theoretical and into the practical. It is clear that our managers are not equipped with the tools to drive productivity improvements -- so instead of whinging about them, let’s give them those tools. *This article was originally published at SmartCompany

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15 thoughts on “Workers can’t sit down, so governments should stand up

  1. frey

    Toolkits, brilliant.

    The first one should be for managers in learning how to manage, the number one killer for producivity in the country.

    After all, if they can’t work that one out what the **** are they doing managing?

  2. drmick

    Is his another of those funny prank phone calls? This directive could only have come from a consultant,(maybe the Big G herself), being paid ten times the rate of the labourers it is meant for, who was sitting down when she/he made it. Yeah; that will save a couple of billion. Who is looking after the books on this job? Joe Hockey? Jethro?

  3. Apollo

    Haha, crazy managers. Having been an employer before,I understand why they don’t want to allow sitting, some workers are lazy and sitting is bad temptation, I’ve known of people who ban chair before. But banning sitting is not the answer.

    They need to organise and co-ordinate that so there is not a surplus or excess number of workers, and the workers need to know and find the job to do next to fill the time and don’t waste it.

    A few months ago, I heard someone was warning that they might change the IR law and allow employers to sack workers who don’t perform the work adequately? Yer think not? Many small business owners work 60 hours a week so they can meet the exhobitant rent and they are obliged to keep the workers who sit around and twiddle their thumbs? There’s a limit on how long the employer should put up with and give the workers the chance to improve. If you want more productivity, or give inexperience workers like the youths to be given the chance to be employed you have to think of what it’s like to be in the employer’ shoe. If you want them to keep unproductive workers then tie the pay with productivity performance per hour and allow them to pay below award wage if the job perfomance is poor.

  4. Bo Gainsbourg

    Hi Apollo, maybe the small business owners should pay a bit better and they’d get better workers? CEOs are always telling us that you have to pay them a fortune coz that’s how you get the best….but strangely that fixed law of the universe seems to reverse when its gets to the workers.

  5. Bo Gainsbourg

    Another thing occurred to me while reading this article. This kind of cost blowout, 9 billion, if done by a government program, would be attracting screaming headlines from the usual media suspects claiming to be focused on waste etc and would then lead to a ‘whaddya expect’ series of articles about how the public sector can’t do things right etc etc. Where is the outrage in this case? And its not because taxpayers aren’t propping up these companies to the max with diesel rebates, watered down mining taxes etc- so how come these ‘private’ sector stuff ups are just mentioned with a passing eyebrow lift rather than the hysterics and stern lectures that a public enterprise would generate? Workers taking 11 minutes rather than 10 to reach the canteen etc did not cause this.

  6. Apollo

    Bo, paying has nothing to do with it. Some people are lazy and take advantage other people. You can have highly paid people at the top, and they can be lazy and corrupted. Don’t put the blame on the employers all the times as if they are all evil and all of the employees are innocent. All of the union people are not corrupted because they represent the “workers”? I think not, it goes both ways.

  7. billie

    Productivity is a measure of the amount of labour vs output. Generally increases in productivity result from using more equipment in the process, streamlining manual processes.

    Are you telling me that inefficient labour practices have resulted in a $9 billion cost blow out? Where can I sign up to work there? I would suggest that poor planning, oorly specified componentry and massive service contracts would be major contributors. Or is $9 billion just a 10% over run – as you would expect on any construction project?

    This report smacks of really appalling project management and cost control. Sounds like they need real managers in place rather than overpaid entitled bully boys.

  8. michael crook

    So, in the resource industry in the 1980’s employers introduced the 12 hour shift and 12 hour rotating shift method of operation, why? Quite simple when you think about it, after the safety disasters of the 70’s, the pendulum swung back to worker safety and civilised working hours, eight hour shifts and all that, which was a good thing and the workers generally liked it, BUT, the employers didn’t like it because it smelled of industrial democracy and loss of absolute control by management. The way that they found to fix this perceived (and certainly not real) problem was to introduce 12 hour shifts. There was no particular cost benefit attached to this change but it meant that workers became fatigued and thus were less likely to be actively militant. This worked a treat and aided and abetted by so called “labor” state governments spread like wildfire and emasculated the mining unions power. So now we have resource organisations that deliberately set out to introduce major fatigue issues to their workforce complaining that this fatigue means lower productivity!!
    Talk about kafkesque.

  9. Richard Scott

    The AFR seems to understand the memo, while the author here doesn’t.

    Leighton’s contract is Civil and Underground Services.
    They aren’t calling their “staff” labour, they are calling their “crew” labour. These are the guys digging holes. If they are sitting, they aren’t working.

    Site crews on large infrastructure projects have work-avoidance down to a fine art. I’m sure this memo was written in frustration at things like seeing entire crews vanish for 30 minutes for a smoke, then work 15 then vanish another 30.

    However, it does sound pretty nasty out there. I’ve never heard of a jobsite where the workers were described as “labour”.

  10. drmick

    So sitting down costs 9 billion dollars and not sitting down doesn’t. Right; so if 1000 workers were earning a million dollars a week,stood up for 30 minutes a day & didn’t smoke then BHP wouldn’t have written off 15 billion in a stupid management purchase, and they could blame the workers, (sorry “labour”), (sorry “government”) for all the problems caused by management and not giving them a toolkit. Gee thanks for clearing that up.

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