Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Rights versus responsibilities: When the motivation needle is pointing to empty

June 16, 2009
By Paul Hogendoorn

Does it ever seem to you like there is a huge disconnect between “rights” and “responsibilities,” and that the gap continues to grow? The nature of most things is to ebb and flow or wax and wane. The pendulum swings one way first, and then, when momentum stops, it starts to swing back in the opposite direction. This might be true for the natural systems in the universe, but I’m not too sure it holds true for some of our society’s systems.

Why is it that whenever we in industry hear those two words used, the word “rights” is associated with the word “workers” while the word “responsibility” is associated with the words “management,” “employer,” or “company?” What about the company’s rights and the workers’ responsibilities

Is it just my imagination, or is our society increasingly begrudging our private and public companies for trying to make a profit? Is being profitable no longer fashionable, or has it somehow become politically incorrect? Perhaps I’m just being over-sensitive, but I am genuinely concerned that there are far too many initiative-thwarting and investment-dissuading attitudes prevalent in our society at a time when it (our society) really needs us (industry) to make courageous decisions and take leaps of faith. It’s hard to make courageous decisions or leaps of faith with so many simply along for a no-risk ride.

Consider municipal taxes. In my community, and many others just like it, the taxes paid on industrial properties are about two and a half times higher than taxes paid on residential property (on an assessed value basis). But the street my business is on doesn’t have street lights, there is no public transit, there is no garbage collection and after a snowfall, the road is not plowed until days after my residential street is plowed (twice!). What would you call people that pay you the highest price but require the lowest service level? You would call them your best customers! How many manufacturing company owners feel like their city or town’s best customer? Yet every year around budget or election time we hear a common refrain: “make businesses pay their fair share!” And unfortunately much of the time, the municipality acquiesces to these uninformed but very persistent petitions.

The provinces are no better – particularly Ontario’s government. In the last few years, the province passed several bills that raised significant concerns from manufacturing groups and associations, yet they didn’t change one line. On one particularly concerning bill, then-Labour Minister Chris Bentley ignored all suggestions by the CME, CFIB and the Chamber of Commerce to make the bill more acceptable to manufacturers and instead sloughed off all criticisms, calling it a fairness issue. When Bentley was questioned again on it later (at a manufacturing dinner I attended), he joked that “we thought you would see it our way by now.” This was at a time when the economic storm clouds were building and clearly visible for all to see on the horizon; a strengthening Canadian dollar and increasing competition from low-cost regions were certain to stress many of our companies to the breaking point. Yet “workers’ rights” and “management’s responsibilities” was the popular tune of the day.

Have you ever tried letting somebody go for what common sense suggests might be reasonable grounds? If you are not willing to give up on common sense, contact your lawyer – he or she will then certainly convince you to let go of it. You can find an individual asleep and sitting propped up in the bottom of his locker numerous times, but don’t think that is grounds to let him go. He has “rights.”

I recently heard of one employee caught stealing an entire car (he drove it off the line, then right off the lot too). But, he is still employed at that manufacturer because he also has “rights.” A friend of mine frequently missed work because of his activities the night before, and sometimes came to work drunk. He was never fired. Instead, his company sent him to a nice place for detoxification – a couple of times. They paid for it and he was paid while he was there. Why? Because, by some stretched interpretation of the word, the company and management had “responsibilities.

I’m all for rights and I’m equally all for responsibilities. But the two words go together for everyone concerned. These are challenging times for our manufacturing industry – and our society really needs it to prevail. To prevail, the companies, the workers and all levels of government have to realize that all three parties have rights and all three have responsibilities. And one of the companies’ rights should not be begrudged, but rather encouraged: the right to make a profit and to keep a fair share after taxes. When our industry profits, all of society benefits.

For the sake of our manufacturing industry, I hope the pendulum starts to swing in the other direction soon. From my vantage point, the industry’s motivation needle is pointing close to empty.

Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. and chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council (LRMC). You can reach him at For more information about the LRMC, visit

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