All economies are subject to booms and slumps. The largest economies of the world suffer economic contraction almost in a cyclical fashion. Trinidad and Tobago will not be an exception to the rule given its dependence on oil and gas.
A sustained depression of oil and gas prices between 2014 and 2017 together with lower production levels of these commodities have taken the economy down a path of economic contraction. This economic fact must be met with an ethical response that considers the common good.
All citizens must be prepared to spread the benefits and burdens of booms and slumps respectively. The Trade Union Movement cannot be over-enthusiastic around booms and under-enthusiastic around slumps. This is not social responsibility.
The Trade Union Movement is an important stakeholder in our economy and must take moral responsibility in periods of adjustment in spreading the burdens of adjustment. So too, must business owners, the super rich and the Government.
Inflexibility to adjust to economic slumps affects not only the poor and the vulnerable, but the generations to come. We cannot continue to borrow to cushion a standard of living that is unsustainable.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we talk about maintaining our standard of living but with no complementary increase in productivity. Countries that enjoy high standards of living are generally more productive and enjoy less holidays.
Their workforce goes to work on time and more regularly. The present crisis around Petrotrin is an opportunity for a sustained national conversation of productivity, hiring practices and efficiency. Our schools are good places to start this conversation.
The over-hiring of workers by successive governments and Boards at Petrotrin is something that must be addressed in all our State enterprises. Have our State companies become higher-paying Unemployment Relief Programmes?
The bigger issue is the diversification of our economy that would absorb a talented and educated workforce. The entire country has a role to play in diversification that goes hand in hand with ‘buy local campaigns’.
Amidst the three years of slump there has been no significant social education on the theme ‘buy local’. There has been no significant social education on innovation and creativity. We must address some cultural issues surrounding work, innovation and creativity if we are to maintain our current standard of living. Our current work ethic is the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’.
We must ask ourselves how we distribute the benefits of a boom and spread the burdens of a slump. This is a question of social justice. One sector of the population cannot share disproportionately in the benefits of a boom while not interested in sharing the burdens of adjustment in the slump.
No one sector or group should demand a way of life and standard of living while putting the entire whole at risk. This is neither in the interest of the common good nor social solidarity.
All citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, rich and poor, employers and employees must be prepared to adjust their belts moving forward. Everyone must share in spreading the burdens and pain of adjustment.
It’s absolutely wrong to shift current debt to future generations. We created the economic mess, we ought to take responsibility to clean it up now.