It has been a difficult few years for a human resource (HR) professional, from having to lay off hundreds of people, to being laid off himself and not having the relative security of a permanent job.
Junior, who asked to remain unnamed, was one of the HR managers at ArcellorMittal who was directed to lay off 600 workers in December 2015.
As a professional he learned a lot about legal layoff procedure but described the process as debilitating, having to hurt so many people and dealing with the emotional consequences.
“We had no choice. The union rejected everything we proposed so the only thing to do was to lay off the workers. It was two weeks before Christmas and we were removing bread and butter from families’ tables. I had men in their late 50s in my office crying as they did not get benefits they had been paying towards for 20, 30 years. They lost so much. I didn’t have a full night’s sleep for about a week.”
Junior said when the plant was shut down he resigned and had to look for another job. Then, after about ten weeks on the new job, he was laid off because of the company’s financial difficulties.
He was unemployed for several months and rent and other bills piled up. In addition, he had the responsibility of taking care of his young sister, two nieces and two nephews. Under pressure, Junior decided he had to do something and last year November he started his own HR consultancy business. “You have no other choice. Companies are not hiring. The same degree you have, 90 other people have it. It was scary, taking that initial plunge, but it was the best decision I ever made.” Then, this year, a friend hired him on a contract basis and, while the pay cheques helped, his contract ended on Friday and he still had debts to pay. “It hasn’t been easy but slowly, bit by bit, things are improving. I’m not sure what will happen after this but God will provide.”
While God may provide, Junior would like to see the government put measures in place to create permanent employment, not just contract employment.
He said financial institutions refused to recognise contracts as a proper form of employment which kept workers from getting mortgages, loans, and other financial services. “I really hope that with this coming budget the government is able to find a way to create sustainable jobs. I don’t know how, but they need to figure it out.”
Junior said he would also like to see more money invested in education as tertiary education was very expensive. He said he believed the country had even harder financial times ahead with even more layoffs.
Therefore he hoped there would be more money for skills training programmes as well, which would also encourage entrepreneurship.