Wed | Aug 23, 2017

We're in a deep shift

Published:Sunday | June 21, 2015 | 6:00 AM

There is a rum-bar story about various organs in the body fighting for rulership. The brain and heart were favourites, with the brain being the most vocal. Eventually, the anus won, not because he talked; but he shut up and got noticed.

The moral of the story is that every single part of a whole is connected, to create a system. Perhaps that is why Peter Tosh spelled it differently, but one of the things lacking in this country is the ability to think systemically.

Public-sector negotiations are on in earnest and there is increased militancy. Speaking with firmness akin to a solid rock, Finance Minister Peter Phillips is reprising the role of the Master in Oliver Twist and looks askance at the Government workers as they ask, "More!" Seven per cent is all he is offering. Public-sector workers are like young Oliver in the Charles Dickens' classic, who has to put up with antagonism from the crook Fagin, who teaches him to fold handkerchief cloth, and Mr Bumble, who uses it.

Everyone knows that the workers deserve a better deal, but Government, tiptoeing on a line drawn by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), says it has no ability to pay, and it would be reckless to offer more. Moreover, the IMF has waved its traditional flag of the public sector being overstaffed and the need to bring the value of wages to just around nine per cent of gross domestic product. It is the old big-stick negotiation, where some 15,000 jobs are in jeopardy, and there's no Alex Trebek to give the answer before we guess the question.

Unions are, therefore, being portrayed as unreasonable debt collectors who are going for the jugular without recognising that they will bleed the cow to death. Yet, others may justifiably argue that a properly remunerated public sector will keep the best in the most important positions.

Maybe my more learned friends from the economic discipline might remind me to stay in my lane, and correct me. However, won't the removal of this large chunk of public-sector workers likely lead to a reduction in the revenue that Government will directly collect from statutory deductions, including their milch cow, the National Housing Trust, which they constantly milk like a San Francisco bull?

And will a reduction of this massive group of spenders not cause a shrinking of the economy, and thus lower, if any, economic growth? It is difficult to imagine how increased unemployment will create a rise in the purchase of goods and services.

Conversely, won't an increase in the spending power of the largest wage bloc stimulate production in the small-business sector? But then again, if theory says that a declining Jamaican dollar will lead to more foreign earnings when external purchasers pay less for the same amount of exports, I indeed must learn some more.

Still, it is not a simple matter of expenditure on wages being seen as a cost item. Isn't there imposing literature that demonstrates that there is a relationship between productivity and worker satisfaction? This is something that I have been saying for more than 12 years.

silent resistance

Furthermore, a point that has constantly been made, with research to back it up, is that the absence or reduction of overt industrial action and reported grievances does not equate to more peace. It is the silent resistance and increased crime rates that must be kept sight of.

However, is there any substance in the view that the public sector is overmanned? Certainly, the critical professions are not overpaid. Are we seeing the Government seeking to twist the arms of doctors into a poorly thought-out shift system because of concerns over the impact of lengthy working hours on their efficiency?

The International Labour Organization's (ILO) research does not support the conclusions that moving the working day from eight to 12 hours has a harmful effect on doctors. In any event, if the Government is so sensitive, why did it now use the flexi-time legislation to normalise the working day at 12 hours instead of the previous eight? Of course, now security companies do not have to pay overtime for work done beyond 12 hours on any day. This bifurcated logic escapes me.

Nonetheless, is it that we are creating a glut of doctors and nurses? Not to mention lawyers, and law programmes that are now popping up like pimples on the face of an adolescent child. Is there serious labour-market planning as we think systemically? And do we need so many of these prestigious professionals, whose plethora will likely push down the price at which they are paid? Is it likely that with an increase in the underemployed doctors and lawyers, there might have to be more 'hustling' and overworking of doctors to make their student-loan payments, and attorneys who increasingly have difficulty removing the glue from their fingers as they pass on their clients' money?

And, what of the Students' Loan Bureau? Has Government focused on the critically missing professions to pilot its science, technology, engineering and mathematics programme? How many unemployed mathematics teachers are there who can't repay their student loans?

Does Government and perhaps, the IMF recognise that the same cohort of youth who are missing from tertiary institutions are exactly the very age group that comprises 70 per cent of murderers and the same percentage of homicide victims? Whose idea is it that it is cheaper to borrow $1m to purchase a car and repay the loan on the reducing balance, than to borrow the same amount to finance a youth's college studies? I teach at a university and I long to see a class with a large number males - and real males, too - those who I wouldn't mind marrying my niece.

With youth unemployment hovering around 40 per cent, where is the systemic thinking? Unfortunately, being a sociologist, I think systemically and organically. Perhaps, that is why the end product of my reason might seem so noxious.

n Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.