could be a factory scene out of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable transported
to our little islands in the West Indies.
women with the unseeing eyes, the first and last people you see as you go
in and out the door, are so reluctant to acknowledge you.
point with mouths and fingers when asked a question, their faces set in
disproportional pulsating rage if they are forced to use their voices to
answer a query, to do what they are being paid to do.
counterparts - men in uniforms - who, technically, are meant to inspire
feelings of security, but whose haunted eyes make them as suspect as the
hidden dangers in the dark car park or empty buildings. Their anger burns
through their uniforms, emerges in casual, insolent looks that offer no
there are the voices on the other end of the telephone, of secretaries,
assistants, either aggressive or simpering, barely audible, leaving you
frustrated, your questions dismissed, unanswered.
now known as the “client” by the advertising experts (who hope by
their lingo to convince us all from their insulated offices that we are
now part of one happy up-market global technologically networked economy),
walk in and out of shoe shops, gyms, banks and travel agencies, post
offices and malls with a vague disquiet, wondering why the frontmen and
women in the private sector are routinely disinterested.
they know that service industries drive the world economy today, that
competition allows us to walk out of one office and into another if
clients (customers, you and me) don’t like the way they are treated?
What monster created these creatures of the undead?
Short-sighted men in suits in the private sector.
is a story behind each of these sullen masks.
the mask is cracked open, out pour sad, cruel stories of exploited,
underpaid, overworked, humiliated workers robbed of dignity, job
satisfaction and motivation by employers whose overwhelming and only
instinct is that of greed.
Alicia (not her real name), employed in a gym in Port-of-Spain as an
instructor. Like most gym instructors, Alicia was paid so little (with no
contract) that she could only scrape through the month if she did personal
do this, she would work three hours before and after her regular hours of
8-5, arriving at the gym at 5 am, not leaving even on the days she was not
doing personal training, before 8 pm.
day, Alicia made the mistake of being so bold as to ask for her NIS
number. The next day, the privilege of personal training, even in her free
time, was taken away. The following day she was fired but she was not
surprised, because the receptionist who she had asked about her PAYE
payments had also been fired.
any of us expect Alicia to be lively, curious, motivated, interested in
people, or in getting ahead? She was, when she started. Now she will turn
her eyes inwards with bitter disillusionment, knowing the scale of justice
tips over only to the wealthy.
would appear that certain companies in this country are swindling money
off government and workers (many of whom are entitled, because of their
low wages to tax returns) to finance their businesses, or simply cream off
irony is, this short-term, avaricious gain to companies is myopic firstly
because in most cases, the lowest paid workers are frontline people
(stores, gyms, security officers), and if they’re unhappy and rude
(can’t blame them), people take their business elsewhere.
it doesn’t make economic sense, because if you’re paying $25,000 in
rent, the cost of giving employees their due in PAYE and NIS is
apart from being immoral, it is silly, because it prevents your employee
from seeking your interests (people go to places like gyms not for
equipment but for the human contact) because you don’t seek his or hers,
and because you refuse to invest in your human resources, your yield is
low, turnover high.
there is no built-in reward system for initiative, for employees to rise
to their level of employment, because it is quickly stifled by threatened
managers who, above all, protect their turf, and turn a blind eye to the
competitive market in which they operate.
a result, employer, employee and client are collectively in a
greedy economy of stealing chips from the poor to pad the pockets of the
rich extends to many groups including housekeepers, watchmen,
hairdressers, gardeners who are paid as low as $700 to $800 a month,
deprived of rights including paid sick leave and holidays, simply because
the people who are being exploited are all eyes, as is a growing
underworld that believes rightly that “society” has no moral authority
to pompously pronounce over “criminal activity.”
all, they are being systematically robbed every month by many in the
private sector. Exploitation by employers of the most vulnerable among us
- the very young or old, the least educated, the poorest - is a form of
cruel indentureship because employees are ruled (as in the days of
slavery) with intimidation.
can’t turn to the Ministry of Labour or unions because bullying bosses
wring their necks by finding another reason to dismiss them. Dismissal for
many is equal to being put out on the streets.
are exceptions, of course - decent employers who understand the role they
play in a developing country, and the need to be decent, if not give back.
British survey showed that the Dutch economy is thriving in the context of
strict labour laws and high taxes because employees were motivated and
still possessed the most precious of all human commodities - dignity.
really doesn’t take much - the minimum wage, PAYE and NIS taxes are a
negligible sliver off meaty profits raked in by private enterprises.
doesn’t take much - the price of a night out by employers can easily pay
for resurrecting the undead among us.