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Burdened by poor work ethic in T&T

Published: 
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Angela Lee Loy Photo by:Charles Kong Soo

Angela Lee Loy, Keston Nancoo and Richard P Young participated in a conversation about productivity with a former trade unionist "who is professional, open and candid," in an attempt to better understand the underlying causes of this distinguishing feature of our work ethic in T&T.

They refer to low productivity in our work force which manifests itself in high levels of absenteeism. "As we seek investors to “set up shop” here as one of the country's initiative to diversify from energy by the creation of jobs and to also earn the much-needed foreign exchange, we have to ensure that our work force is prepared to work and be productive and that “scourge” of absenteeism is removed."

They connected with a business which suffers from an absenteeism rate of over 40 per cent and has to overstaff by 10 per cent to ensure the stores open and at times they still cannot open a store because of the no-show by staff. They were also told by a business colleague in the hospitality sector that they suffered badly by the no-show of staff over the recent Christmas season.

"This phenomenon of low productivity driven by high levels of absenteeism really baffles us because we logically assumed that our population has finally realised that the country has lost over 90 per cent of its energy revenue and the signs of economic challenges are very clear and apparent, so the work force will hold on to their jobs dearly. But, maybe we are wrong. A significant portion of our work force do not arrive to work on time, and, if indeed, they show up to work, the provision of eight hours of daily work is fast becoming a thing of the past," they said.

The former trade unionist proffered what he considered to be the major contributing factors for the low productivity:

•It is deeply rooted in culture and there is an absence of a shared national vision so we work, but towards what end?

•Relative to the previous comment, there is also the loss of confidence and trust in our elites which leads to an absence of hope.

•There are deep divisions and growing polarisation—race, religion, geography, gender, age, wealth and income.

•The manager does not show up to work on time and projects that as a perk of the job where he/she does not have to come to work on time. We interpreted that to be a challenge of leadership and the inability of many “to walk the talk”.

•The infrastructure of our country, both physical and social are not enabling. Crime is at the top of the list and is a contributing factor to absenteeism; traffic could mean spending an average of over four hours a day commuting to and from work, which is not an enabler. Lack or absence of water is deemed to be a disabler. The absence of family support as mothers can't leave their children at home unattended if the help does not show up. In a sense, there is a vicious cycle.

•There should be some form of child care at the workplace so parents can focus on their jobs without worrying about their children after school. Some form of transport facility/subsidy should be offered.

•Process and procedures in the business may be archaic or old school, leading to inefficiency. This is more pronounced in government ministries and many state enterprises.

•There is a lack of proper and adequate training that is aligned to the needs of the society.

'Lackadaisical attitude towards work'

"While we understand the reasons being suggested, we believe there is a lackadaisical attitude towards work by a large segment of our population in that we generally do not like work and, if we can produce the minimal to get by, we will do so. There is an absence of “hunger” to work. We do not understand that we should work for a minimum of eight hours a day. We do not understand that it is not proper to be paid for eight hours a day but work less.

"We also have a segment of our society who do not want to work and believe the State must provide. Government after government perpetuates the dependency culture. One just has to look at the “Job Vacancies” section to confirm this point.

"Time and time again, we hear business people state that they cannot find staff. We are mindful that some employers as a policy pay the minimum so as to maximise their profits, referred to as exploitation. We would venture though to say that if a productive staff is identified, the smart employer would improve the compensation to retain and engage the productive staff."

The people behind the conversation

Angela Lee Loy is the president of the T&T Coalition of Services Industries is Partner of Aegis & Co, external audit company.

Keston Nancoo is chairman of the Employers' Consultative Association and the vice-president of human resources at Guardian Holdings Ltd.

Richard Young is chairman of the T&T International Financial Centre is a chartered accountant and his career comprises the highest leadership levels in accounting, auditing, insurance and banking.

The conversation on poor work ethic in T&T continues next week

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