Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Holness: Ja needs to build culture of efficiency, productivity

Published:Wednesday | June 19, 2024 | 12:12 AMJanet Silvera/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Having paid out the largest increase in public sector wages in Jamaica’s history, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the issue of productivity must now be addressed.

When completed, public sector workers will have received an increase of $200 billion.

However, there remains a decline in labour productivity, a subject about which many of the island’s leaders have expressed concern.

“Whenever I use the word productivity, a large part of the country hears hard work or more work. They think, ‘They want us to work more and aren’t paying us more’. As prime minister, I have to be very careful how I deal with these delicate subjects because of our history. But it has to be addressed,” Holness told delegates at the official opening ceremony of the 10th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference yesterday.

His comments serve as a stark reminder that there has been a marked decline in labour productivity among the Jamaican workforce, particularly the younger generation.

“They turn up late, and the company loses a lot of man-hours. They also call out for the simplest of things, such as no water at home. And they take two-hour lunch breaks instead of one, yet leave at 4:30 p.m.,” a general manager of one of the government agencies told The Gleaner.

Not approved to comment publicly on the situation, the manager said people might criticise, stating it is a management issue, but they could not be further from the truth.

“Management spending too much time dealing with issues is unproductive.”

The government agency employee noted that loss of hours equates to the loss of output.

“What the prime minister is saying is real.”

WORK ETHIC

Overall, the work ethic of Jamaican workers differs tremendously from other nationalities, and a recent visit to a construction site proved the disparity. Asian workers on Jamaican construction sites are renowned for giving the 10 hours they sign up for, while Jamaicans will leave to go ‘cook their pot or smoke a joint (ganja)’.

“It is a cultural issue, a ‘Jamaica no problem’ issue,” argued the general manager, noting that those who go overseas to work leave the poor production issues in Jamaica.

In his speech, Holness appealed to the diaspora to use their influence when they talk to their relatives here.

“When you talk to your grandmother or your brother and your sister and you are able to explain to them the policies, because the policies that we are trying to implement are the same policies that you are observing in the countries from which you come,” the prime minister said.

“Efficiency and productivity are hallmarks of your developed societies. They are not viewed as an imposition; every single worker understands and appreciates that yes, because I produce more, I have a claim for more pay, and so that is a culture that we need to build here in Jamaica,” he argued.

Holness said because of this issue, Jamaica was not experiencing predictable growth.

The segments of society that have suffered due to poor economic performance would be labour, he shared, explaining that labour suffers not just because of low wages but also because of high inflation.

“So if you’re earning a low wage and then you have to confront high inflation, then the cost of living is going to be affected,” he assessed.

He added that even if the Government were to radically increase wages and the minimum wage, if that is not sustained by a commensurate increase in productivity, then those increases become inflationary.

He suggested a two-pronged strategy where the Government increases wages as much as it can while balancing inflation, so the nation does not suffer.

“But we must now be on that very rigorous pathway of producing more,” he stressed.

editorial@gleanerjm.com