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Suruj: The New Normal

The latest phrase to characterize the workplace and in a sense the global environment as a result of Covid 19 is The New Normal. What this means is yet to be fully explored but in summary it describes the way the world will generally function post Covid 19. This includes workplaces and how they will reorganize for work, relations and person and group interactions, the practice of hygiene as well as public spaces and their management amongst others.

In particular though there appears to be an emerging trend by organizations as to the level of employment required to deliver their products and services post Covid. Already many companies have been cutting both wages and salaries as well as several have been engaged in reducing numbers. As of now there are no real statistics to show how many persons have lost their jobs and as well how many are likely to do so in the near future.

Without such statistics and an understanding of what kinds of jobs have and will be lost, the government will find it difficult to prepare a worthwhile plan for economic and social recovery and reconstruction. Apart from the intermittent surveys by the Chambers no comprehensive survey is being conducted to inform the strategic and policy decisions which must be made. Guesstimates are not now good enough.

It seems that a lot of companies are developing the view that they can run their businesses with fewer employees. In this regard we should not be surprised if companies decide to close their doors and pay off workers before reopening and then rehiring. When you speak to Business owners a lot of them see Covid as an opportunity to get rid of workers with poor attitudes and to set new standards for discipline and productivity. There is a real threat to increasing levels of unemployment. As an aside with companies discovering that work from home is a real opportunity it is highly likely that rental properties could soon be empty as people give up leases.

With energy prices as unstable as they are government will have a challenge on its hands to sustain public service employment levels and as well salaries. The government cannot continue to draw down on the HSF and continue to borrow since it is already on the cusp of having debts which are unsustainable. There needs to be a meeting of minds between the trade unions representing public service employees and the government to work out a plan that protects public service jobs and as well improves the performance of that sector.

The new normal now brings into sharp focus the levels of subsidies being given to State companies and public utilities. WASA, TTEC, Port Authority, Airport Authority, PTSC, all must now as a matter of urgency re-examine their business models. In an election season a lot of promises will be given by government as to job protection in all of these entities including the public service. However the reality of being cash sufficient to sustain these operations is now under severe scrutiny. You cannot borrow into perpetuity.

The areas of construction and agriculture provides some measure of hope in the short to medium term. Food security is a must for policy makers. However the rate of production must be accelerated by removing the barriers to production. These are well known. The private construction sector must be facilitated by a new normal in terms of public servants and their speed of approvals. At this time it appears that the sector is not going to take off without a new paradigm of speed and removal of antiquated bureaucracy.

It is extremely difficult to get any kinds of approvals from government agencies at this time which hinders start ups of new houses and with it the employment of people. In fact many mortgages are being held up Right at this time because WASA clearance certificates are difficult to obtain. Town And Country only this week Have started accepting plans with no indication as to when they will Be processed although there is a 60 Say promise to attend to these plans. Regional Corporations are at half or less of their capacity thus making receiving final approval a real challenge. There appears to be no urgency in these government institutions which must facilitate the construction sector if the economy is to get a kick.

The new normal is here. It is unfortunate that the government has not responded with the speed and thoughtfulness that is required.

Surujrattan Rambachan MP

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