As T&T slowly begins to reawaken and tries to shake off the economic nightmare created by the coronavirus pandemic, manufacturers have taken operational steps necessary to promote effective health and safety practices dictated by law and good sense.
The Business Guardian reached out to several manufacturers who said post-COVID means significant changes to their daily operations.
Some of these measures include encouraging employers to develop and implement policies dealing with social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and temperature checks.
Even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the United States has issued a series of guidance memos for employers, including one that says it is permissible for employers to measure the temperatures and conduct tests to detect the presence of the virus in returning workers.
Ramesh Maharaj, the general manager at Vencaribbean Paper Products Ltd said every month he invests around $10,000 in sanitising products.
It’s a small cost which Maharaj said has become absolutely necessary in safeguarding the health of his workers and the future of his factory.
“I prefer to spend that money than to have to close my plant because one of the workers gets COVID because of me being too cheap,” Maharaj said.
“Let me cut my profits a little bit and be safe to continue my business,” he said.
Apart from PPE and the installation of additional sinks, temperature checks are done twice daily and the social distancing policy is enforced.
Maharaj’s Arima factory is also sanitised daily.
The number of customers has also been limited and entry is only permitted via the wearing of a mask.
Protocols will also be enforced before entry.
Since the factory is very spacious Maharaj said social distancing is easy to manage in addition to which there are floor supervisors.
“Only so many people are allowed in the locker area at a time. When workers are ready to clock out they have to line up and keep apart via the six feet marker,” Maharaj further explained.
And like other manufacturers staggered lunch hours have also been enforced.
Sean Roach, chief executive officer of Langston Roach Industries Ltd shared similar measures taken by his company.
He said while a policy has not been finalised Langston Roach Industries has implemented thermal readings on entry and there’s the possibility of even staggering production lines to an extent.
“A firm policy has not been achieved but it’s a work in progress,” Roach said.
Chris Alcazar CEO of Vemco Ltd outlined several measures which the company implemented going forward.
These include the installation of additional hand wash and hand sanitising stations, staggered hours of work and break periods, as well as work from home facilitation and virtual meetings.
Vemco has also included additional lunch facilities, the screening of employees including touchless temperature checks, PPE for employees, and transportation protocol changes to facilitate physical distancing.
Trade generally doing well
Products made in T&T are commonplace on the shelves of households throughout Caricom and are also available in territories with which trade agreements exist.
During the pandemic, Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon ensured the movement of cargo was uninterrupted as she had instructed Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan to ensure that the port of Port-of-Spain and Point Lisas were functioning effectively so that all incoming goods would be cleared in a timely manner.
Maharaj who supplies all the English speaking countries with bathroom tissue said the continuation of trade has been essential for the survival of local manufacturers.
“The ministry of trade designated someone to liaise with manufacturers should any issues arise. Between the ministry, port and customs they have done an excellent job,” Maharaj added.
While COVID-19 has been detrimental to SMEs, exporters, however, have benefited.
Maharaj said his company has recorded a 50 per cent increase in demand regionally.
On the local front, there has been almost 100 per cent increase in demand for his products which he also supplies to Government offices.
Langston Roach Industries Ltd which also exports to all of the English-speaking Caricom countries has also done well.
This is because the company manufactures items such as hand sanitisers, disinfectants and cleaning products, Roach explained.
“We had a good demand for these items because there was an increased demand for our products during COVID,” he added.
For Vemco Ltd there was a “lift at first” regarding Caricom exports when COVID was first announced, however, this has since slowed down, Alcazar explained.
“Some of the markets...a lot of them are reliant on tourism so they are going through some real hard times as well,” Alcazar stated.
“St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Barbados... a lot of them went into lockdown even with supermarkets from the beginning so for us with food exports we did see a rush at first with the panic buying but it has slowed down to the point where it has slowed down than prior year now,” Alcazar said.
Locally, he said, the company has seen a “very strong surge” in items like ketchup, powdered milk, mayonnaise and pasta.
“This is still going quite well,” Alcazar added.
Vemco is one of the Caribbean’s leading manufacturers and distributors of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) in the Caribbean Region.
The company is constantly expanding and exporting its manufactured brands to more territories in the USA and Caribbean, recently adding Panama, Dominican Republic, and Cuba, to its list.
Alcazar who said he is a bit concerned regarding the drop in exports is, however, hopeful that business will flourish once again.
“A lot of our brands are very strong and we are very conscious of our pricing in terms of offering a great product at good value so we would be impacted a lot less than other people or from US or UK imports,” he said.
“We do anticipate some markets will be softer because of the economic issues they will be grappling with which could be potentially worse than us, especially those markets which rely on tourism because tourism will not bounce back all of a sudden, “ Alcazar added.
According to TTBizLink Data, 208 manufacturing companies exported to 69 countries in 2018.
T&T’s manufacturing sector currently employs approximately 60,000 people.
In 2018, according to the Central Statistical Office the food, beverages and tobacco products sub-sector grew by 5.6 per cent and the textiles, clothing, leather, wood, paper and printing sub-sector grew by 1.5 per cent.
While the 2018 Review of the Economy recorded overall growth in manufacturing at 7.3 per cent.