Digitalisation and changing labour norms


Looking for guidance from the Industrial Court in relation to questions of justifiable disciplinary action for breach of work rules is always useful in establishing an employee manual that is acceptable throughout the organisation.

That does not mean such guidelines do not and cannot change.

Guidelines may change as the environment changes. Change can advance performance standards or retard them.

During the lockdowns, curfew was from 10 pm to 5 am. In companies still operating three shifts, for example, usually 6 am-2 pm; 2 pm-10 pm and 10 pm-6 am, people who were on the 6 am-2 pm shift, but live more than an hour away from work, considering the difficulty in finding public transport, they could not get to work on time, so during that period, late-coming and absenteeism rules may have had to be altered, then regularised when the curfew ended.

In some cases, a recognised union refused to allow any change in work rules without negotiations taking place, as the Industrial Court stated is its right and union agreement achieved, even if this interrupted the ability of a company to operate.

Law makers obviously did not take this into consideration.

The employment relationship is sometimes a complex one, tied up with the complexities of human interactions, emotional responses and the individual baggage we all carry.

Emotional integration is often taken for granted although that is the basis for employee motivation and decision making. Motivation is also the basis of quality performance. It is tied up with self-esteem, loyalty and trust.

Work from home module

The recent announcement by the Minister of Labour that work regulations for public service employees are to change to encompass the work from home module, was greeted with a certain amount of scepticism by the public.

There has been no indication whatsoever if this is a result of a change in terms and conditions of employment in the public service negotiations for an umbrella collective agreement covering all employees of the government, or if it is an attempt at trading a four-day work week against a four per cent wage increase.

There are valid arguments to support the work-from-home concept.

It is part of a changing environment. In some countries this is justified by encroaching digitalisation which requires fewer human operatives. The theory is that this is doable by moving responsibility from civil servants to members of the public.

This is part of the national policy push towards digital education so that in a few years, everyone will know how to do interactions with government departments online, eliminating the need for 4,000 or so people now employed, thus cutting the expense of hiring more clerical staff and paying pensions in the future to people who, it is claimed, seldom work to standard anyway.

The theory is that what now requires 9,000 people to get done, in the future, this will be done by 4,000 or 5,000, as the public will be able to do it all themselves, online.

All schools are moving towards digitalisation, we are told.

Except, of course the decision-makers who forgot about the problems ordinary people faced with curfews and work rules, also forgot about the elderly who never learned by digitalisation.

Nor the other 40 per cent of citizens who never learned how to perform online administrative functioning although they can use an ATM, and the others who do not have, and can’t afford costly internet and computer access out of inflation-depleted pensions.

When law-makers are divorced from the facts of life of ordinary people, they seem unaware that their decisions can bring dangerous consequences.

Pay on time

They also forget that, in order to motivate young people coming into the work force to actually work, even on Cepep gangs, they actually need to be paid on time, many of them being self-supporting or needing to help their families.

They have to pay for travel to get to work by 6 am and occasionally eat a meal. But week after week after week, according to recent testimonies, they don’t collect even the minimum wage promised.

And then the Prime Minister convenes meetings with the acting Commissioner of Police to discuss the growth in youth crime.

For those with jobs that can be done from home (road work is not one of them) the new policy referred to by the Minister of Labour will save workers money now being shelled out in travelling and transport costs as petrol costs have risen for the third (or is it the fourth?) time.

Is this supposed to offset the four per cent increase most latterly offered by the state in negotiations?

Fewer cars driving into Port of Spain may lead to the notion that there is no need for the Ministry of Works to repair the potholes on St Vincent Street or on the other tire-shredding highways and bye-ways leading into the city.

If discipline, production and tolerance are to develop through work, after listening to unhappy public speculation about how road repair contracts are allocated on a per job basis to firms that only allocate half the thus contracted sums to the materials and labour, knowing that inspectors from the Ministry of Works are never going to bother to actually inspect and/or evaluate the quality and integrity of the work done.

The contractors swear that they never get paid on time anyway, so can’t pay workers, some swearing that, with or without promising to pay kickbacks to relevant decision makers it still takes years to be paid.

So there is no motivation to provide quality work that will prevent all those potholes and shredded tires. Or to set an example of work discipline, production or tolerance for the disillusioned young people being hired as a social policy

Is crime a survival alternative?


"Digitalisation and changing labour norms"

More in this section