Back in May the Department of Trade and Industry released a video paying tribute to those working in the logistics sector, recognizing their role in delivering essential goods to locked down Filipinos and keeping the economy going (as much as possible, at the very least) amidst community quarantine. Port workers, warehouse personnel and delivery riders got the spotlight, as videos of them continuing to work – with safety protocols in place, of course – were played to illustrate how they are just as important as medical frontliners during those first difficult weeks.
It’s been ten months since the first community lockdowns were declared, and we still need our logistics workers more than ever. Well, to be frank, we’ve always relied on them, in good times and bad; however, the work is not glamorous, at least not glamorous enough to be shown on television. It’s the sort of work one can take for granted, for as long as he is able to go to the supermarket to buy a week’s worth of supplies, or is able to go online and buy a K-pop album and not worry about it until it arrives. Arguably, it’s the sort of work one should take for granted. The customer should not have to worry (constantly) about how his order is delivered and when, for as long as it gets to him in the right time, at the right condition, and at the right price.
So it’s really up to us in the industry, then, to make sure that our logistics workers are taken care of. Whether working in-house or outsourced, they make sure our businesses continue to operate despite the circumstances, and are able to serve its customers as their habits change and evolve with the times.
On the surface, this means giving them peace of mind, that they are not unknowingly spreading the coronavirus to their families and colleagues. I assume most of these measures are already in place: health protocols, alternative working arrangements, perhaps a contact tracing scheme. This should also mean providing them the support needed to ensure they can still do their work: transportation services, increased allowances for the additional burden on home utilities (ergo, you pay for the additional electricity cost, ideally), or perhaps more flexible working arrangements for those who have to stay at home and, therefore, find themselves juggling employee and family duties.
In the longer term, we should also be thinking of how we’re compensating our logistics workers. What constitutes “support” has changed significantly in the past few months, as we find the lines between home and work life blurring, and we expect far more of our people. For businesses, it is a difficult line to toe. Profits have taken a hit, and while logistics have been allowed to operate as normal for the most part, the continuing doldrums of our economy means things won’t go “back to normal”, whatever that now means, at least for the next few years. Yet we cannot afford to lose our people, to whom we rely on more than ever. But, again, they are people too, not just automatons: they are also stressed out by the circumstances and are worried about whether they can still provide for their families down the line.
And it isn’t all about financial considerations. Are we giving our people the opportunity to learn on the job, to upskill and further themselves? Are we supporting them through decisive and kind leadership that empowers and motivates them to go above and beyond what’s expected, rather than just forcing them to deliver? Are we broadening their horizons, or are we restricting their view? These considerations go a long way not just to retain our people, but also to attract new ones – to shake off those pesky perceptions of logistics jobs, particularly those in the frontlines, as temporary ones you just pass through on your way up the career ladder.
We have to be more sensitive to these factors, and not just while we are in this pandemic. Much like our customers’ preferences are evolving with the times, our employees’ needs are, too – and they will not revert back to what they were. In these times when we demand more of our people, we must also recognize that our people also demand more of us. We have to take care of our own, as we take care of our customers.
Finally, I do acknowledge that businesses can only do so much, and that part of the response to make sure we can truly support our logistics workers lies with the government. As I write this, proposals putting in place a 14-day “pandemic leave” are making their way through the legislature – but, again, we must make sure measures supporting our workers are not made with the thinking that we can do away with it once the pandemic is over. For example, the riders delivering for the likes of Grab, Foodpanda and others – how are they protected by law? The question of whether they are “employees” or “freelance contractors” have been tackled in other cities and countries; last month in California, a measure passed defining such drivers as the latter, in a campaign supported heavily by Uber and Lyft. These questions will pop up here sooner or later, as we rely on them even more to bring some sense of normality in our middle-of-the-pandemic, almost-continuously-cooped-up lives.
Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.