The TT Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) hosted its first cyber annual meeting Wednesday virtually – on trend with the virtual meetings that have now become the norm as a significant portion of world’s workforce adapts to remote work during covid19 quarantines.
Franka Costello, who returns for a second stint as the association’s president, in her speech to members, cited the “overnight shift to technological solutions” as a necessary and important step that has been propelled by the circumstances.
“We’ve all had to beat the clock, to find work-from-home solutions, as a responsible and necessary decision to keep business going. Online purchasing capabilities have been critical to keep product moving; and leveraging technology to reduce labour while maintaining productivity, is mandatory.”
Technology, she said, was a critical lever for driving growth and export potential in the manufacturing sector. More, though, needs to be done to save businesses and jobs during this time.
The government has issued a stay-at-home request for non-essential workers and non-essential businesses and has implored the private sector not to cut staff – at least initially – something the TTMA has broached to its members.
In return, the Government agreed to pay off some $1 billion in outstanding VAT and income tax refunds to businesses. The Association, however, is calling on Government to create some relief to keep businesses afloat and to sustain levels of employment. Costelloe noted that she made a list of recommendations detailing initiatives that would allow reasonable levels of cash flow to pay employees who are now in lockdown and unable to work.
“We have had to face the unprecedented reality of removing people from our operations – while at the same time, keeping them on payroll. No doubt, it has been the right thing to do, given our current social scenario.”
The challenge, she said, is the sustainability of the status quo. In the new norm, a labour discussion is imminent. “We are not going to be returning to business as usual”, she cautioned, even as she commended members for stepping up to the plate.
Members are facing significant reductions in trade and cash flows, she said, and were now in the fourth week of reduced trade and a repressed economy. “We have had to make investments in technology - while carrying current expenses. The future can feel ominous at times...but when you cannot see the future, just do the next right thing.”
She encouraged members to work collaboratively to find practical and humane solutions to the major economic challenge facing our country. “Those solutions”, she said, “have to be good, for business, and good, for society. We are finding ourselves at two ends of the spectrum – having to give and needing to receive. The more agile we are in adjusting and adapting, the better our chance of a faster recovery.”
Also speaking at the virtual meeting was Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, who said while the government was actively looking at allowing all businesses to operate soon, the priority at this time is preservation of life. The government is, however, focused on medium, small and micro-enterprises and is in discussion to offer the best possible solutions.
The TTMA has 536 members, 60 per cent of which are small and medium enterprises. Voting for directors was done online. Two new directors, Roger Roach and Emil Ramkissoon were elected, while Tricia Coosal, Ian Roach and Dale Parson were re-elected for service. Ramkissoon, at 25 years old is the youngest ever member elected to the TTMA board.