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Time to review number of holidays

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

For a number of reasons, it is widely believed that the local economy will never again experience the level of prosperity that was felt in this country in the 2005 to 2008 period. Among the reasons is that the average global price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which was the main driver of the boom in the economy in that period, is unlikely to reach, on a sustained basis, those previous heights. This is primarily because of the expansion of LNG production across the globe in the last few years and the commercialisation of the technologies to exploit what is referred to as shale gas. While price is one factor, recent audits of T&T’s natural gas reserves have indicated that the country’s supplies of this commodity may decrease within the next two decades. This is so even with a committed and sustained programme of natural gas exploration, which has been made possible only by a substantial reduction in the percentage of taxes the country will collect in the future from the foreign energy companies that operate here.

This economic predicament dictates that the country focuses its attention on diversifying its base of production and revenue generation. This drive to discover new sources of wealth, to ensure that most of the citizens of T&T continue to live the lives to which they have grown accustomed, should be seen as a challenge to the creativity of the country rather than a cause for hand-wringing and anxiety. As it seeks to diversify the economy away from its dependence on wasting resources, one of the long-term issues that should be animating the People’s Partnership administration is finding ways to increase the level of productivity and competitiveness of the T&T economy. The Government has gone a long way in promoting economic productivity and competitiveness by continuing some of the policies begun by the previous administration. Chief among these is the introduction of information and communication technology to the public sector in a way that may transform the provision of government services.

By allowing customers interested in accessing government services to submit forms by e-mail, TTBizlink, which is scheduled to come on stream from January 2011 under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade, promises to revolutionise the speed with which business is done in T&T. But the Government needs to find other ways in which to drive productivity. One suggestion that has been raised for consideration is that the number of holidays enjoyed by people in T&T should be reviewed. By our count, there are 14 official public holidays in T&T: New Year’s Day, Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Indian Arrival Day, Corpus Christi, Labour Day, Emancipation Day, Independence Day, Republic Day, Eid, Divali, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Public holidays provide social benefits in allowing workers extra days in which to rest, spend more time with their families and friends and pursue happiness however that is defined.

But holidays come at a cost to the economy as these are days in which production is minimal and for which private sector employers must pay a premium in order to get employees to work. Some people argue that with 14 national holidays a year, plus sick leave, casual leave, maternity leave, bereavement leave and vacation leave—which have all become an integral part of most collective agreements in this country—there is more focus on time off in T&T than work. For businesses which must sell on the global market to survive, this focus is not healthy for a country that is clearly going to have to fight to remain competitive. This issue of productivity and the diversification of the economy should be attracting not only the attention of the Government but should be high on the agenda of teams of social and behavioural scientists. It is only if we know all of the factors promoting and restraining productivity in a local context will we be able to make informed decisions on the thorny issue of vacation and leave.


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