Productivity issues must be put on the table
...Prime Minister Hinds By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
December 4, 2001

Employers and trade unions...`have to see productivity in a new light, namely, working smarter, not necessarily harder' - Dr. Christopher Imoisili of the ILO Caribbean Office

A TWO-DAY seminar sponsored by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Programme for the Promotion of Management Labour Cooperation (PROMALCO) opened here yesterday with stakeholders recognising the need for everyone to work together to increase production and productivity in the workplace and to respond to the myriad changes taking place in the world.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds encouraged the large gathering at the opening of the productivity tripartite national seminar at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown "to get down over the two days to some frank and honest discussion".

He pointed out that there was no doubt that Guyana needed huge increases in production and productivity.

He expressed optimism too that the seminar will be considering ways of finding an agreement "so that we could focus on our work and how to increase productivity and standard of living".

"I think it is important that we get the issues out on the table," he said, adding, "we have to sit down and consider what attitude do we take as we go and develop those industries and those sectors which, hopefully, are in step with changes..."

Over the last 10 years, Guyana may have doubled its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and per capita GDP but this was still about one-fifth compared to other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries in terms of where they are, he said.

General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Lincoln Lewis, said that for too long the call by trade unions for a long-term coordinated industrial strategy has fallen on deaf ears.

"We have long argued that there should be a strong and efficient industrial base - but this call has been ignored and now the chickens are coming home to roost," he asserted.

"Today we have gathered here to fight not to protect our respective constituents or even ourselves, it is a fight to protect and enhance the heart and soul of the Guyanese industry; a fight for the economy of Guyana, a fight for the communities of today and the next generation," he said.

He said the links between production, productivity and poverty are complex and intertwined.

However, it is increasingly clear that in an effort to satisfy their basic needs, the poor often destroy the resources on which they depend, he noted.

According to Lewis, this is most likely in circumstances like Guyana's where it is observed that as the working population grows without significant increases in economic activity or changes in the structure of the economy which can absorb the labour force, larger numbers are forced into activities that are counter productive to eke out a living.

Recognising that those in the audience are leaders of industry, government and labour and "since yesterday informs today and today will inform tomorrow", he said, "let us remind ourselves that we have all failed our people for the citizens of this country has entrusted in us a country to lead which slides further into poverty".

"We gave excuses like El Nino, La Nina and September 11, and moreso, shift to Town Day Bash and Main Street Lime with a view of sidetracking the real issue which is enhancing production and productivity", he argued.

He said "if Guyanese industry was a building, we would have knocked it down and start again, but we cannot do that. We have to build on what is left."

In this regard, he said nothing short of a new partnership for industry is needed. "For the sake of industry and our children's jobs we need a new industrial strategy and that is why we have gathered here."

As a first step, Lewis said industry must re-connect with the educational system, particularly the further and higher education institutions. He said too that those who invest labour in industry must be entitled to at least the same consultation as those who invest their money.

Other recommendations he made were that institutional investors must represent Guyanese better by offering a long-term commitment rather than rushing for the short-term dollar; the Government must offer economic incentives to encourage businesses to invest, free from hassle from political functionaries and greedy bureaucrats; it must seriously tackle the need to raise standards to build the workforce of the future; a campaign for raising the status of industries in Guyana; and striving for the establishment of the national productivity council and councils in the workplace.

Lewis said only with these elements in place will there be a long-term future for Guyanese industry since a long-term future for the workforce plans a long-term future for communities and families.

Chairman of the proceedings, Minister of Human Services, Social Security and Labour, Dr. Dale Bisnauth; Dr. Andrea-Vincent Henry, Representative of the ILO; and Mr. David Yankana of the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry (CAGI), also made presentations at the opening ceremony.

PROMALCO is a two-year project jointly sponsored by the ILO and the United States Department of Labour and the programme is an attempt to engage Caribbean enterprise, workers, employers and governments in a process of culture change (continuous improvement) that is demanded by the international economic system.

The ILO is committed to assisting the Guyana Government and its social partners, notably, CAGI and the TUC, to set up a tripartite National Productivity Council to serve as the catalyst for the much desired national productivity improvement drive.

Dr. Christopher Imoisili, Senior Specialist, Entrepreneurship and Management Development at the ILO Caribbean Office, presented a paper on `the role of the human resource management function in the promotion of productivity' during one of the two workshops yesterday afternoon which focussed on the `major factors hindering/constraining productivity improvement in Guyana in general and in key sectors in particular'.

He said that as a result of certain historical developments, the work place has been characterised by the perception that the trade unions are militant and pay more attention to their members' welfare than to the well being of the organisation. Human resources managers are only important when there is industrial unrest or during collective bargaining; workers are seen as `resources' or `assets' which can be dispensed with as and when necessary; and in return, the workers do not owe any loyalty or commitment to the organisation beyond mere mechanical compliance, he said.

Given that scenario, Imoisili said it can no longer be business as usual for Guyanese employers and trade unions if they are to survive.

"That is why they have to see productivity in a new light, namely, working smarter, not necessarily harder."

He pointed out that productivity is no longer looked upon as purely `efficiency' in terms of input and output. Increasingly, the effectiveness aspect - ability of products and services to meet customers' demands and expectations - is coming strongly to the fore, he said.

Imoisili also pointed out that at a recent ILO-sponsored workshop, the following were identified as the major factors hindering/constraining productivity improvement in an important Caribbean country:

** Environment/Culture - which includes lack of widespread and general awareness and understanding of productivity and its importance to national economic and social development; in the policy and regulatory environment, there is lack of information and data on national and sectoral productivity performance; distrust between managers and their employees.

** A general lack of confidence in the system and economy arising from (among others), a perception of inequity at the workplace as there is an absence of a clear link between effort and reward, and a lack of meaningful worker participation in the decision making process; and entrenched political favouritism or nepotism which results in endemic corruption.

** Paradigm paralysis whereby the parties do not react readily to change, a cultural attitude of taking things `easy'.

** Weak infrastructure, such as poor roads, inadequate transportation and lack of security of people, goods and services.

** Outdated plant and machinery and inability to use available technology to access information and improve the process of productivity improvement.

There is also a blurred picture of the human resource component, he said.

He also noted:

** In general, the workforce is perceived as merely a cost, not an investment or asset. Therefore, while staff reduction is a ready tool for productivity improvement, retraining or reskilling is hardly so considered.

** It is yet to catch on that productivity/competitiveness is fuelled by economic, human and social capital.

** Social harmony through industrial democracy, mutual trust and trade union rights is yet to be entrenched.

Imoisili said that interestingly, those findings can easily apply to Guyana.