The complete reopening of Barbados’ economy as we in the Caribbean and most parts of the world still battling the COVID-19 pandemic was always going to be fraught with challenges.
The last four quarters of Barbados’ economy have been characterized by a downward spiral in almost all fundamentals. The most handicapping has been the virtual collapse of activity in the tourism and hotel sector.
Our heavy reliance on tourism for income, currency and jobs has exposed our vulnerabilities to any negative impact on the sector.
Despite the immense challenges facing the country, public sector workers have mostly remained immune to the effects of the pandemic. They were not forced to take pay cuts. The State, by example, ensuring the maintenance of most jobs in the public sector.
In the private sector, the situation has not been comparable. Pay cuts, job losses, reduced working hours and even business closures among micro, small and medium-sized enterprises were common occurrences rather than anomalies.
But there is also a development stemming from the pandemic that has marked the lives of workers in the public and private sectors.
As fear grew of contracting the deadly viral disease and anxiety over the spread of COVID-19 among employees, many business leaders made the decision to have most workers perform their tasks remotely. from their home.
This meant that many Barbadian consumers of goods and services who were reluctant to do business online, were forced to do so or endured long queues, often outside in the elements.
Remote working has been praised by employees and HR professionals. Large local businesses like Sagicor have revealed, at the height of the pandemic, that they were able to quickly shift much of their business activity to online platforms, with the bulk of its employees operating from home.
Brittany Brathwaite, president of the Barbados Human Resource Management Association (HRMAB) told this publication in an interview in April that employers and employees need to get used to the new normal that has been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brathwaite, who provides advisory services to businesses and industries across the Caribbean on labor law and policy, and is a frequent commentator on labor issues, said: “[The pandemic] has forced people who have always believed that work can only be done within four walls, to admit that this is not true.
“The pandemic has also forced many organizations to enter the 21st century where they needed to be, where performance measurement is based on production and not office presence. “
Interestingly, with a downward trend in infection rates in Barbados and most countries, including the United States, due to a rigorous vaccination program, employers are starting to tell workers that it’s time to get back to the office full time.
In the public sector here, most offices are almost back to full capacity, and the same is true in the private sector.
However, face coverings, hand sanitization, and physical distancing are still required.
But it appears from anecdotal reports that few Barbadian workers are happy to return to the office. It seems like working from home has been tough for them, but they still prefer it to the four walls of the office environment.
Who can blame them? The risks posed by the disease have decreased but have not been eliminated. Another very prohibitive factor is the high price of gasoline. And not having to travel in long, slow lines of traffic to and from town and other business centers such as Warrens and Wildey in the morning and evening, are compelling reasons to work from home.
In a high-profile case many are following closely in the United States, which involves global investment firm Morgan Stanley, Wall Street firm CEO James Gorman told New York employees who were allowed to work from home , that they had until the end of August to return to the office full time or face a pay cut.
Gorman said when the summer is over, most New York workers will have to get off Zoom and start taking the metro to the office.
“On labor day [the first Monday in September], I’ll be very disappointed if people haven’t found their way into the office and then we’ll have a different kind of conversation, ”he said, adding that workers couldn’t expect to receive their“ New Yorkers’ wages if they continued to work remotely.
“If you want to get paid at New York rates, you work in New York,” Gorman said. “None of that ‘I’m in Colorado. . . and get paid like I’m sitting in New York. ‘ Sorry. It does not work.
We can’t wait to see how this ultimatum ends. And equally relevant is the case of Barbados and whether workers will have the option of working from home.
After all, having employees work from home also saves businesses a lot of money on things like utilities, office equipment, and rental of office space.