Unrecognised Industrial Action of smokers’ “go slow strike” has serious impact on productivity

Like any ex-smoker, I realise the danger of Damascene Conversions. From a purely economic perspective, though, you’ve got to wonder about the impact of people congregating outside for a fag during working hours. A CA friend who has his own small business says he’s done the numbers and has stopped employing smokers. A recent potential employee, he told me, got through all the hoops until he let drop at the end of the interview that he needed a nicotine fix. After later being told it was a no-smoking team, he offered to quit. But my pal is so staunch on this that he told the fellow to come back in six months if he really has overcome his addiction. Les Reyneke has taken an even closer look at the cost of smoking in the workplace. here’s his blog. – AH      

By Les Reyneke*

Industrial action in the work place occurs when two or more employees refuse to perform their duties in pursuit of a common goal. A

Les Reyneke: Time to assess the true cost of "smoke breaks". Says they're like a go-slow strike.
Les Reyneke: Time to assess the true cost of “smoke breaks”. Says they’re like a go-slow strike.

“go-slow-strike” is more difficult to identify, because all employees attend work, but their efforts reduce productivity in pursuit of a common goal. Considering these definitions, smoking employees in the workplace can easily be identified as implementing a “go-slow-strike”.

In our society, smokers are marginalized due to strict implementation of the country’s laws; this applies to restaurants, boardrooms, malls, hotels, etc. The hard core smokers are herded into specifically designated areas to take a relaxing puff. No longer can they insist on the right to soil their own lungs as the primary targets, and ignoring the collateral damage inflicted on innocent bystanders.

A typical smoke break takes approximately 10 minutes, and smoking is a social habit. Gathering smokers are observed in demarcated zones, as discussions are started regarding the impact of smoking on productivity. Only three smoke breaks a day, calculates to approximately 15 unproductive days per year, which accounts for the same amount of time awarded as leave to many employees in the annual cycle. Smoking employees, absent from their workstations, are not reported as influencing the company bottom line negatively, but they are implementing a “go-slow-strike”.

Being fair in the workplace is good practice. Should this argument then warrant additional pay or benefits to non-smokers, or a deduction for the smokers?

Employers, craving for higher efficiency to stay ahead of the competition, face this conundrum. A discussion with a labour consultant revealed: “Discrimination against smokers will not be tolerated. People has the right to smoke, and can choose to do so within the constraints of the law, which inhibits smoking to protect non-smokers.” Where does this leave the non-smoker in terms of the higher potential efficiency? The consultant responded: “Currently, employers cannot reward non-smoking as this is deemed discriminatory. The only solution implemented by employers at this stage is to limit smoking to natural breaks, i.e. tea times and lunch breaks.” The legality of those rules are however questionable.

Government fights their own battle with smokers through continuous implementation of so-called “sin taxes”, causing an outcry every February from the die-hard smoking community. Increased cost through levies forces an economic choice on an individual basis, thus eroding the number of smokers. The strategy seems to be working slowly, but is it enough? Taking a hard stance; declaring South Africa a smoke free country will solve the matter outright. Without this step, the discussions linger on, and the inefficiency cost of smoking on the economy remains hidden.

* Les Reyneke, a metallurgical  engineer, is an executive director. 

Visited 289 times, 2 visit(s) today