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No-movement days = work holiday?

Private sector stakeholders are warning that there could be more layoffs on the horizon if the Government’s no-movement days continue. Former president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) Larry Watson said retailers are feeling the pinch now more than ever with only two and a half days to secure as much sales as possible.

Larry Watson, past president, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (File photo)

“The report we’re getting from our members is that the retail trade is suffering badly and if this continues you’re gonna start seeing layoffs because they just don’t have the kind of buffer. This thing has been going on for a long time and whereas some companies have been doing reasonably well…if lockdowns continue there will be layoffs. I think we’re going to see it when STATIN next report on GDP and the effect it has had on the economy,” Watson said.

Earlier this week, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Seprod Group Richard Pandohie took to Twitter complaining about a similar and related problem. He argued that the no-movement days and half-day on Friday mandate have made the situation worse, especially for some employed persons in the private sector and government who he said get their regular pay cheques, “they see these days as holidays, effectively bringing the country to 2.5 work days per week.”

Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association Past President Richard Pandohie (left — then vice-president) converses with Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness during the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Jamaica in 2018. (Photo: Twitter @AndrewHolnessJM)

“Jamaica has had 30 years of declining productivity, high productivity is not a part of our workforce DNA. Since the onset of the pandemic, businesses have been encouraged to let persons work remotely for good reasons but the reality is that we (country and many companies) do not have the infrastructure nor the work culture to successfully execute this,” Pandohie continued.

President of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) Senator Kavan Gayle highlighted that some workers are doing the best they can under extenuating circumstances.

“There are some businesses that are not on the list of employees that are exempted and equally there are some that notwithstanding the fact, they can’t work from home. So you don’t expect them to be on the road on a no-movement day when they are not a part of those designated as essential and it poses a challenge.”

The trade unionist noted that employees who earn based on tasks they complete and who cannot work from home have also experienced significantly fallout in salaries and are also buckling under the pressure.

Senator Kavan Gayle, president, Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (Photo: JIS)

Nevertheless, Pandohie contends that 2.5 work days is not economically, nor socially sustainable “in a society where many persons are employed in the informal sector and earning on a day to day basis. In my opinion, Jamaica’s biggest social net has been remittances from the diaspora, a portion of which could be at risk when the USA stimulus cheques come at end of September.”

“If the science says that lockdown days will break the virus transmission, then let us do it. But the other days must have longer business hours,” Pandohie proposed. He further suggested that the half-day Friday mandate should be removed and businesses like banks, tax offices, etc should be allowed to open on Saturdays. He said, “these measures will create more economic activities on the limited days and prevent the ridiculous and counter-lockdown impact of massive crowding everywhere.”

At the same, Watson believes that relaxing the curfew hours is the key to easing the pressure on some companies, though he admitted that it may be counter-productive in the fight to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“On the days of Wednesdays and Thursdays the curfew time is 7:00 pm which means they have to close at 5:00 pm to allow for check off and people to go home, so people can’t even leave work and go to shop. I think the 7:00 pm instead of 8:00 pm is an issue. I believe that moving it to 8:00 pm would ease a lot of the pressure both with traffic on the road and with the times supermarkets open,” Watson said.