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Poor work ethic in T&T reaches Crisis Proportion

Sunday, February 5, 2012


The complaints about the work ethic generally within Trinidad and Tobago is an issue that is not only confined to the businessmen, the “bosses,” or the “bourgeoisie” within the society but is now on the lips of the layman, housewives and even children. Indeed, poor work ethic, or what some people suggest is just sheer laziness has assumed crisis proportion. It is within the environment of the schools, the public services, the private sector, the gas stations, the grocery and has pervaded every nook and cranny of the country. In the case of the university, instructors, lecturers, technicians, tutors and even the administrators are complaining that students no longer want “to read for a degree” but simply wish to “get the notes.”  Laziness or poor work ethic, as the more fastidious among us would refer to it, has become the number one problem in the country. But there are implications for this kind of  poor work ethic.
For instance, some of the challenges will include:
• Higher costs of delivery;
• Overburdening of people who are hard working;
• Delays in the delivery of products and services;
• Complaints and lack of confidence in the organisation;
• Poor products;
• Lack of confidence by people willing to invest in the country.
• The importation of an external workforce;
• Animus towards an external workforce;
• Militant trade union requests.
Educators and sociologists alike suggest that part of the problem of poor work attitudes has to do with the home and the society, but far more is involved. Indeed, while there certainly is validity in trying to arrive at the root cause of the problem, it is clear that this is a complex if not vexing issue that cannot be placed squarely on the doorstep of the home or the society. Rather, the problem of poor work ethic is multi-faceted. Prior to the 1970s, there was little or nothing to complain of with respect to the work attitude of employees within the country. Rather, it would be interesting to compare the data with respect to strikes and man-days lost from the 1970s to present. It will be found that while indeed there had been agitation by various unions over time, the number of man-days lost was not a major issue. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, data revealed that the number of man-days lost had increased significantly. As William Demas (1984) had pointed out in his report on The Imperatives of Structural Adjustment while the oil boom of this period had a number of advantages, there were accompanied by a number of disadvantages as well. For instance, with the attainment of independence and later with the economic policy to take over the commanding heights of the economy in the 1970s, many people moved away from agricultural pursuits. Rather, as government expanded activities in all spheres of the society, it also created the Development Employment Work Programme (DEWD) for the less qualified.
It was a time of conspicuous consumption, as Demas (1984) pointed out, and the population was encouraged in this consumption pattern since wages were fairly high. He noted that there was a tendency to employ semi skilled and unskilled labour at exorbitant rates. This reduced the incentive for people to acquire much needed skill so that today there is a shortage of much basic skills. Even with the onset of structural adjustment measures in the 1980s, it was evident that as soon as the economy picked up in the latter half of the 1980s, the government reintroduced social welfare projects and job opportunities that required little or no skill or training  and which rotated jobs on a two-week or monthly basis. Similar kinds of policies were promoted by the subsequent governments. It was clear that the policy makers had not learnt the lesson of belt tightening. Some suggest that this kind of state policy is tantamount to handouts in which the governments are using state funds to buy the semi-literate voters. Others have been more critical and have argued that state policies of the nature of DEWD has largely been responsible for dependency syndrome in the society. In fact, much criticism has emerged over the continuation of similar programmes such as the Colour Me Orange project in which $3 million was made available for short term employment in 2011.
In defence of the State, however, it is evident that something has gone wrong with both the home as well as the school. It is quite laughable than when one discusses the chores that were assigned to children in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s many of today’s youth suggest that this borders on “child labour” and the parent was not aware of “the rights of the child”. It has become so bad that one parent that I know washes, cleans, cooks, buys the groceries and does all the domestic chores for her 35-year-old daughter and her family. What should be pointed out, though, was that the assignment of chores fostered discipline, responsibility and was a way of preparing the child with life skills. In the school as well,  with the absence of “cleaners,” schoolchildren had responsibility for the cleaning of the classroom, the yards, planting of gardens and only general maintenance was contracted out. The “house” system method led to competitiveness among groups and fostered pride and self esteem when houses were acknowledged as achievers. The lament for improvement of the work ethics of the people of the country continues, perhaps unacknowledged by the policy makers. It is evident, however, that this is at the heart of many of the challenges facing the country—the increase in the number of gangs, teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, and the increase in the drug trade, clogged drains, dirty pavements, squatting—all are in some way linked to a poor work ethic.