Being elected as an MP and given the task of leading the Ministry of Labour has been quite an eye-opener for Stephen Mc Clashie.
As MP he has encountered situations he never knew existed and people who have all kinds of strange requests and expectations of him.
His goal, he said, is to make a little difference every day so tomorrow somebody’s life would be better.
He has seen first-hand the depression in La Brea in the few weeks he has been in office and on his pre-election walkabout, including unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunities, and he wants to give it his best shot to bring about some kind of improvement to the people who elected him.
“As I begin my five-year term, it has given me a very new perspective on some of the real issues people have and what they are looking for – and answers are not readily available," he admitted.
“Therefore, when I encounter these people and their problems, it depresses me in the first instance, but in the second instance it energises me to try to really make a difference to really create avenues for jobs.
“When you have children, ages 12 and 13, who are working to send themselves to school because of absent parents, and I am talking about girls, and all the attendant problems that go with that, it depresses me. I feel if I can do a little bit every day to make a little difference tomorrow, somebody would be better off.” He said his focus is on a number of initiatives to raise the bar in terms of education, generating employment in the agricultural sector and in local tourism.
Mc Clashie, a former director at Lake Asphalt Ltd, said he wants to monetise the Pitch Lake as a tourist attraction and regenerate competitive sports. He has been meeting and brainstorming with residents who have been putting forward ideas to uplift the community.
It was their interests he sought to protect when they raised concerns about the noise from a billion-dollar plant built by Caribbean Gas Chemical Ltd (CGCL) on the Union Industrial Estate.
He met with company executives and had separate meetings with residents. In a meeting last Friday, Mc Clashie said residents remained dissatisfied with the measures CGCL had taken. He has since asked the Environmental Management Authority to conduct a second assessment on the noise levels, "to ensure the threshold of tolerance is within the specified legal limits to what residents should be exposed to."
Efficiency versus bureaucracy
In office for just under one month, Mc Clashie, having come from the private sector, (he was a senior executive at the National Gas Company), has been alarmed by the slow pace it takes to get things done in the public sector.
He said important pieces of legislation have been languishing in the ministry for approximately a decade, but he is not ready to start his tenure making enemies with staff by assigning blame to the public servants or their work ethic.
“It has nothing to do with the civil servants not wanting to get it done,” he said, apportioning blame instead to the regular fall guy called “the system,” which pushes one to go through myriad levels of bureaucracy that all takes an inordinately long time – sometimes beyond the term of an administration.
Mc Clashie said he intends to take an incremental approach to ensure passage of some of the more important pieces of legislation, including those dealing with the Industrial Relations Act and the Retrenchment and Severance Benefit Act.
“Instead of trying to do everything at the same time, I think the better approach would be to identify two or three different pieces of legislation we want to do every year over the next five years and focus on getting those passed.”
Cooperatives and the National Entrepreneurship Development Co Ltd (Nedco) have moved from labour to the new Ministry of Youth Development and National Services, but Mc Clashie said there are still many units in the ministry.
Presentations have been made by each unit to give him a grasp of what he is dealing with and he is laying out his agenda.
However, in the interim he has seen the need for institutional strengthening in the occupational safety and health (OSH) department in terms of resources and manpower, plans to digitise the collection of job-loss data, and update the National Employment Services records so they can match employees with employers.
He urged employers to tap into the on-the-job training (OJT) programme and give qualified young people a chance.
Mc Clashie joins the public service during a contentious economic time, navigating a ministry that has to deal with increasing joblessness in a covid19 environment, in the midst of unions clamouring for settlement of outstanding negotiations as well as employers buckling under pressure. He is being challenged to do a balancing act to create some measure of satisfaction among all parties.
He intends to do so from a position of suasion rather than from a legal standpoint, engaging the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).
“I think there needs to be a meeting of the minds: the government, the employer and the unions. I would like to see the council work as it was designed to, meaning that we have really meaningful and open discussions about how we interface for instance with covid19 and how we navigate this new normal.”
This unprecedented situation would ultimately affect terms and conditions of employees as employers try to downgrade for their own survival and unions fight to protect members from being disadvantaged.
“So, I think the NTAC would really become a useful tool in the next few years as we navigate this entire environment.”
Over the next four to five weeks, he intends to engage stakeholders, including the business and trade union sectors, in that conversation.
An eternal optimist, Mc Clashie said this crisis is too much of a good opportunity to waste and called for thinking outside of the box and looking at solutions never looked at before.
For instance, he said while the ILO issued some guidelines for working from home, the industrial relations advisory council still has to provide guidelines and polices to adapt to local circumstances.
While such an arrangement may be ideal for some people who no longer have to contend with hours in traffic jams, or getting their children up at 5 am to take them to school, it could create some contentious issues in terms of the non-traditional hours and conditions of work.
People who are more introverted may do well, but those who crave personal interaction may have mental challenges. He said this may create challenges for doing appraisals, with the soft parts being diminished in the absence of personal interface.
Creative solutions will be needed to address whether having an accident while working from home constitutes an industrial or personal accident.
“Your internet bill – who should be paying for it, you or your employer? If you work from your desk and the setting around you is not good, is that a company issue or an individual issue. All these are very vague issues we will have to address.”
About Stephen Mc Clashie
· Stephen Mc Clashie has over 45 years of experience in the field of supply chain management, largely within the oil and gas industry.
· He holds a BSc in management and integrated information systems and an MBA, finance from the Long Island University.
· He is a certified purchasing manager with a life membership to the Institute of Supply Management (ISM).
· For the past 35 years he has served at management level, leading the development, establishment and implementation of best practices, including frameworks for contracts, procurement, inventory and logistics at the TT Oil Co Ltd (Trintoc), the Power Generation Co of TT (Powergen), the National Gas Company (NGC) and Atlantic LNG.
· He has also been at the forefront of major contract negotiations as a management-level member of staff at various organisations, at both the national and international arena.
· He has served as a director on the board of the South West Regional Health Authority as well as on the board of Lake Asphalt.
· He has taught at the UWI School of Continuing Studies and School of Accounting and Management, School of Higher Education, among others.
· Outside of the professional arena, Mc Clashie has been a founding member of the Rotary Club of Point Fortin and, a Jaycees’ International senator. He is an avid martial artist, who also enjoys coaching and counselling others on independent living skills.