This guest post by KF is reproduced with permission from the Comments section of my blog post, Nigerians Protest Conditions at Chinese Construction Project. I welcome other guest posts, particularly from Africans and Chinese with experience in the field.
As Prof. Brautigam noted, there is a huge cultural conflict in terms of work／business ethics and expectations towards labour. However, in my experience, after many periods of labour disputes, the companies acclimatise themselves to the locales in which they operate over time.
My parents (retired) had no concept of a holiday and often wondered why businesses closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Understanding they had come to a foreign country to invest, it was natural to them to work all the time. My father (the Bwana) himself would often join in the labour to demonstrate the task or to modify the task to enhance efficiency or complete a more complex task- innovation to African contexts. Even I (still in high school) was drafted into a foreman capacity, secretary, and sales office when the occasion required (all unpaid, of course), while all my expat classmates holidayed in UK or South Africa at their parents' multinational employers' expense.
At my parents' factory, we used to operate 24hrs (using night shifts) to maximise output during the high season. However, this was more dangerous to the night staff who would often sneak off to sleep and leave machines undermanned and under-supervised. The output and quality suffered as well as more stock being unaccounted for. In the end, the night shift was scrapped because the cons outweighed the pros, despite customers being more satisfied with their orders completed earlier.[view whole blog post ]