The impact and the opportunities of COVID-19

SWP, together with the Swedish Embassy and Business Sweden in Colombia invited Swedish companies operating in Colombia to share their strategies during the pandemic and how they plan for re-opening of business. All agreed that  the uncertainty of the pandemic and its negative impact is the main challenge. But some companies were optimistic due to new creative solutions to generate business. 

The companies follow the instructions from global, national and company- levels. There is a lot to consider when the crisis hit, many of them had crisis-plans ready as well as contingency plans. The companies that had crisis committees  established, spent a lot of time to adjust to the crisis, but the global impact of the crisis  is unique in modern day business.

The world is affected and the supply chain for global companies is interrupted, due to lockdown, logistical closures, travel restrictions and closing of some factories.  The estimated decrease on demand during the lockdowns is up to 75% in some countries. Some companies and suppliers have production on-going despite the virus and have adjusted their protocols to include  screening of the employees before entering the workplace.


Reliable information is critical and many companies started using digital tools to reach the employees from mid-March. Companies have been creative in their communication with employees through daily newsletter, online platforms, phone calls etc.

One sector which was not included in the lockdown was telecom. Their services are needed for general communictions and to transform the work to a digital way of working. Telecom companies kept a close track of the employees and have adjusted their field and maintenance to ensure  their safety.

Most of the workforce work around 60% time with retained salary. Several companies plan to test the workforce which is one key factor to be able to open the businesses.

A new normal

There will be a new normal and the acceleration of the digitalisation of all business processes in now a fact.

Many companies have already prepared for “smart recovery ” with gradual reintroduction of office employees. In factories, screening is mandatory and PPE (personal protective equipment) will be available and  workplaces are adjusted to distancing.  Some of the companies have taken initiatives to redirect production, using 3D prints for PPE production or other products needed in the response.

Creative solutions

A new way of working can also create new business and optimisation of e.g. supply chain and demand workflow. Most of the companies continued having a close dialogue with customers. Customer webinars have been successful to show presence and adaptation.

All companies agreed on that these learnings are important to share and continue to develop.  

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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