Film processing company, Greece: redeployment, training and development
This company was established in Greece in 1924, as a subsidiary of a US multinational company. Its business is the sale and processing of photographic film and it employs 125 people in Greece. The company’s age profile consists of 10 employees aged 20 to 30 years; 37 employees aged 31 to 40 years; 45 employees aged 41 to 50 years; and 33 employees aged 50 years and over. Some 31 employees are women. The company employs 45 white-collar workers and the remainder are blue-collar workers. During 2004, 5% of employees were promoted, 3% to 5% retired and an equivalent percentage were recruited. There is no preferred age for recruitment, but if extensive training is required, the company prefers to recruit younger employees since they can make a heavier investment in them. There are no labour shortages at present.
The company has been implementing an equal opportunities policy in relation to gender and age for a long time, originating from the parent company. It strongly supports a global diversity policy that values the employment of people of different ethnic origin, religion, age, gender and sexual orientation. Ten years ago, the company employed 176 people, but new technologies, such as the change from film to video in TV and, more recently, digital photography, have affected the company and its employment levels. In 1997, with the closure of the colour film processing department, 80 people of all ages lost their jobs.
There is a works council and social dialogue with the trade unions, although issues have not centred around employment agreements, since these are based on national law and parent company policy. Key issues concern everyday working practices, health and safety, and training.
The original initiative
In 1996, the company introduced an initiative to provide training for all personnel, including older workers. Training was conducted both internally by the company and externally by sending employees to seminars in training centres in the country and in Europe. The president of the parent company made it mandatory for all staff to receive 40 hours of training per year, including people who were within six months of retirement. Training was part of a general human relations policy, which valued long service and company loyalty.
This was not a locally-based initiative, but came from the US parent company as part of a comprehensive initiative encouraging investment in the workforce due to the specialised and technical nature of the work, and also arising from its emphasis on equal opportunities and non-discrimination.
Three years ago, the national subsidiary company introduced e-learning in the local language of the Greek subsidiary, providing information and learning on 3,000 issues on their website, which is constantly updated. However, there have been some increasing issues regarding the non-mandatory nature of training in the company compared to the previous system, despite the company itself not having changed its training policy. The outcome of this change for all employees is still not clear and there is obvious concern in the company about whether employees will be able to improve their knowledge and skills if training is almost exclusively based on e-learning.
Good practice today
The company maintains its positive attitude towards the provision of training for all employees without any form of discrimination. Moreover, it does not make people redundant during cutback periods on the basis of age, and follows all the social criteria for redundancy in line with national law, which particularly protects older employees. All employees made redundant receive 100% of the compensation due to them and money for self-insurance from the insurance fund. The company also continues to reward those with long service, although this is done by the local company and no longer by the parent company. Even though it does not employ part-time workers or retired persons, since it has not required such employees, it is considering the feasibility of offering part-time jobs in the company because of economic difficulties. The only part-time work available is for cleaners on a separate sub-contract.
The company’s global diversity policy promotes equal rights for women and men, although at present, only 5% to 10% of managers in the local company are women, even though this was not a deliberate policy. The company expects this to change gradually, however, through internal training and promotion. In the past six months, it has not hired any new employees. Older workers are treated exactly the same as all other employees, and in terms of recruitment policy, people are hired on the basis of qualifications, not age.
In relation to training, there has been a thematic shift from its original mandatory nature to more voluntary training involving e-learning. The rapid introduction of new technologies, e.g. video, IT, digital, has had implications on ways of providing relevant and up-to-date training. A key benefit of e-learning is that it contains the most current information, which can be updated easily and constantly. The disadvantage is that personnel may not take proper advantage of this form of training. At present, the works council is primarily concerned with health and safety issues and with training in new technologies. There is a quite marked controversy over the issue of training methods at present.
The international status of the company, its HR policies stressing equality and commitment to staff through long-term employment and training, and its association with the film and television industry has made employees feel more privileged than many in the national labour market. Nonetheless, rapid technical changes in the industry and competition from alternative technologies has undermined the company’s international position and has forced it to make cutbacks and redundancies – a process that is still ongoing. While employees could once depend on a job for life with the company and substantial investment in training was guaranteed, the fear of redundancy for some has undermined the security of the employment contract, even though the company continues to express its commitment to its older workers. At the same time, investment in e-learning reflects the need to keep staff up to date with rapid technical and commercial changes; in a sense, however, this is altering the training policy to discriminate against those who are less energetic, educated, or not in management or key positions. As yet, the long-term effects of e-learning are still unknown.
Another issue relates to the HR department’s unwillingness to allow for debate with the works council about the implications and problems with e-learning, reflecting a tension in local company policy that has not yet been resolved.
Generally, the company has no difficulties in recruiting staff, and about five people are recruited annually. Though the age structure of the workforce is skewed towards those of an older age, this is not perceived as a problem by the company.
Company policy towards its employees is formulated at international level and implemented locally. Nonetheless, local employment conditions, e.g. regulations, local labour markets and local demand, influence how such policies are implemented in practice. Although this national subsidiary is a small company with strong interpersonal relations among its employees – with a historical long-term commitment to them and their life-course development – this appears to be increasingly under threat. Ultimately, HR policy is determined by the parent company and by the search for profitability.