Collaboration decreased employee turnover

Workers from the shop floor and middle management gather around a large conference table at Dayeon Bi Jou, a jewelry factory about 1.5 hours south of Hanoi by car. It is time for the collaboration committee’s monthly meeting.

Dayeon Bi Jou manufactures and sells jewelry to H&M and other brands. The factory has just over 100 employees, and most are women. The collaboration committee was established as a platform for dialogue between managers and employees and consists of 13 members, one worker from each production line and mid-level managers representing different functions.

Quang Trinh, from the sales department, sees the collaboration committee as an effective tool to drive improvements in the factory.

“This is a totally new way of working for us. Through the committee, we get valuable input from all departments. It is also a good way to anchor and spread information within the factory.”

One of the first challenges the committee tackled was the high turnover rate among new workers. The committee members raised the issue with their colleagues on the factory floor and through dialogue it was discovered that the way older staff treated new hires was the root cause for the high turnover rate. As a result, the collaboration committee developed guidelines for introducing new employees which top-level management approved.

“We have already seen a decrease in the number of new workers leaving the factory since we started with the new guidelines,” says Quang Trinh from the sales department.

“We have already seen a decrease in the number of new workers leaving the factory since we started with the new guidelines”

Quang Trinh, Sales Department

Proud to be able to contribute

This is the seventh meeting. At first, the workers appear a bit reserved, and it is mostly the managers who speak up. However, as time passes, the workers become more engaged and actively participate in the discussions. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, and a range of concerns raised by the workers are addressed, including how to manage hazardous waste, improving staff planning, and that the scissors in the production are not user-friendly.

One of the worker representatives in the committee, Tran Thi Thuy, from the warehouse department, shares that she feels proud to represent her colleagues.

“If we discuss a problem in my department, I can bring it up in the committee where we often find a solution. It feels good to be able to contribute,” she says.

In addition to addressing ongoing concerns, committee members have carried out structured needs assessment discussions with their colleagues in their respective departments to gather ideas on areas that need to be improved.

Trust and respect

Committee members have received training in soft skills to increase confidence and create a culture where they truly listen to each other.

Chu Thi Khanh, who works in the gliding department, shares that her role as a worker representative on the committee has contributed to her personal growth.

“At first, I was too nervous to speak during the meetings and I didn’t know what to say. Even though I am still shy, I am starting to feel more comfortable speaking,” she says.

The collaboration committee was established through a partnership between Dayeon Bi Jou and the Swedish Workplace Programme. The programme is financed by Sweden and supports companies to create a structure for dialogue between managers and employees as well as a culture where everyone can make their voice heard. 

“In Vietnam, we have a hierarchical business culture. In many workplaces it is common that employees simply do what is required and no more, even though it is often the employees who know best how to solve the problems in the areas they are working in,” says Nguyen Thu Hien, regional coordinator for the Swedish Workplace Programme in Vietnam.

“However, the most important factor is to create a culture of safety within the committee, permeated by trust and respect where everyone, not only managers, feels confident to speak up and feels listened to,” she says.

Challenging in the beginning

Nguyen Thu Hien’s role is to coach the chair and the vice chair of the committee on how to run a committee. This includes, for example, coaching on the importance of having a set and clear meeting agenda, that everyone is given the opportunity to speak, and that meeting minutes are shared with all employees. Furthermore, to institutionalise the new structure, she has supported the committee with developing a terms of reference, including roles and responsibilities, that now has been signed off by top management.

“However, the most important factor is to create a culture of safety within the committee, permeated by trust and respect where everyone, not only managers, feels confident to speak up and feels listened to,”

Nguyen Thu Hien, Regional coordinator for the Swedish Workplace Programme in Vietnam

Quang Trinh admits that it was challenging to form the committee and that they did not really understand the committee’s purpose in the beginning. However, they have learned, and he now finds it rewarding to see the results of the committee’s work.

“I think that we all feel that what we are doing is valuable, both for ourselves and for the factory as a whole,” he says.

After 1,5 hours and with several new items on the to do list this months’ committee meeting is over and the members return to their respective departments to continue their workday.

Author:

Evalena Persson, Programme Manager SWP Asia

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UP!

UPSKILLING OF UNION SHOP STEWARDS

lack of enabling environment for social dialogue at the workplace level, despite the provision of legislative acts that protect and promote workplace cooperation is a reoccuring issue  in Kenya. To implement good policy there must be a fertil ground.

Therefore SWP developed the UP!  project. Together with Swedish companies as an entry point, and with unions i South africa and Kenya. 

In Kenya SWP created the SWP UP! Programme targeting skills development of the union Shop Stewards from 18 companies in the Automotive sector in Kenya during 2021. As a result, the Stewards were able to use their skills to build trust and cooperation with management in new ways to avoid conflicts. 

A second cohort of training, in close cooperation with union AUKMW, takes place in 2022.

The training allows shop stewards to step out of their daily routines and understand their role and the purpose of their union, understand the labour market context, the laws that regulate relationships and the business itself. But on a human level, many shop stewards also highlighted that they feel respected as human beings, and that they have developed the skills to engage with supervisors and management and experience respect in professional relations. The experiences had deeply impressed them and helped to project the vision of dialogue and mutual respect and their own potential as a means to change workplaces.

The intervention of the SWP programme had a direct effect at the workplaces, where shop stewards listed several cases where they had managed to intervene and secure results in dialogue with management, avert crises or find solutions based on opportunities and the communication skills obtained during the SWP training. For the Amalgamated Metal Workers Unions in Kenya, the shop stewards pointed to how the training had enabled them to design their own strategies at the workplace in relation to supervisors and staff, and to achieve many concrete results.

Based on this shop steward upskilling, I feel confident that as a union we now have change ambassadors that will grow the industry, protect, and promote decent work principles for both the employer and the employees represented. And that disputes will be dealt with at the workplace level by though consultative dialogue.

Rose Omamo

General Secretary
Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE CONTENT AND TRAININGS IN THE UP! PROJECT IN KENYA AND SOUTH AFRICA