Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Chik-V seen as costing billions in lost productivity

Published:Wednesday | October 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) is estimating that about 13 million man hours may have been lost to the chikungunya epidemic, potentially resulting in economic losses of more than $6 billion as workers stay off the job while recovering.

PSOJ Chief Executive Officer Dennis Chung said Tuesday that feedback provided to the trade group indicates that some business places were seeing up to 60 per cent of staff affected.

The Jamaica Manufacturers' Association meanwhile has conducted a survey, which showed infected workers absent from work for an average of four days at 81 companies, representing 35,072 of lost man hours.

"There is also absence of workers to attend to the care of family or friends who are affected in the household. While this was not measured, it is important to consider," said JMA President Brian Pengelley in a report shared with Wednesday Business.

Chik-V is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, with symptoms including high fever, joint pains, nausea, rash and itching.

Reported symptoms

"Epidemic reports of high fever, migraine, rash, muscle pain and arthritis resembling symptoms of the chikungunya virus, influenza and/or dengue have been increasingly reported over the last three months. The persistence of these symptoms may become a source of chronic pain and disability resulting in the individual being unable to attend work or school," Pengelley said in his report.

A total of 101 companies or just under a third of the JMA's 335 membership base were surveyed via telephone and email.

Only 20 companies reported that workers were not affected by the flu virus, while 81 manufacturing companies indicated that workers were affected.

The number of workers employed by the companies affected amount to 8,772, and of that total, 1,096 workers reported symptoms of the flu virus, Pengelley said.

Meanwhile, head of the Jamaica Productivity Centre, Executive Director Dr Charles Douglas, expects the productivity impacts of chik-V to linger for years.

"I am of the view that there are both short-term and long-term impact of chik-V on productivity," he told Wednesday Business.

"In the first instance, absenteeism due to sickness will negatively impact productivity and production. Second, persons may return to work before they are completely well, resulting in reduced productivity. Finally, it is my understanding that for some segment of the population the impact of the disease might persist for several years - during which time the productivity of those individuals will be negatively impacted," said Douglas.

The productivity expert added, however, that in the final analysis, the true impact of chik-V on production and productivity can only be measured when data becomes available.

Man hours

Chung of the PSOJ said "assuming a workforce of approximately 1.3 million of which 50 per cent are affected and are out an average of four days at the low end, and a seven-hour work day, "then we have a total potential hours lost of 18.2 million hours".

"However, you could assume that maybe 30 per cent of that is covered by other persons who have to take on the work and therefore assume the total hours that will not be recouped - because many persons will not be able to recover - is 12.7 million hours."

Chung stated that with the basic hourly rate paid being $260 and GDP being "a little over two times the compensation to employees, so that GDP maybe around $520 per hour, we can extrapolate to say that maybe $6.6 billion worth of GDP could be affected".

Chung said while the PSOJ has no real estimate of man hours lost, anecdotal feedback from companies leads to a guessimate of 40 to 60 per cent of staff being off the job at one time or the other for a period of four to seven days.

"Even within PSOJ, we have seen around 40 per cent of staff affected," said Chung. "This," he adds, "has affected our productivity and has placed a strain on others who have to cover, so it is not that we have lost all the hours, as I am sure other offices have had to use the persons at work to cover for those who are out."

James Stewart, director of the Economic Planning and Research Division of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, said at this time, the PIOJ is unable to estimate the impact of the chik-V on production and productivity.

Preliminary economic performance data for the July to September quarter will become available by mid-November "at which time we should be better able to provide an estimate," he said.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com