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Bad bosses and the trade unionists

Published:Thursday | May 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By George Davis

In a Jamaican labour market where the employer is king (and queen), all employees have a narrow range of choice. This constricted space is to the advantage of employers, because they know that even excellent workers will, at best, have only limited options if they leave to find a job within the same field.

Another loop for the employers' belt is the fact that not many employees can leave a field where they operated at a high level and take on a new job in a different field where they can command similar in terms of salary and status. Employers exploit this reality, and some, with more evil coursing through their veins than the heat in hell, use it to wage psychological warfare on their employees.

An employer, comfortable in this position, will, from his catbird seat, seek to control the actions of the employee knowing full well that any hint of a pushback against the control being exerted can be dealt with using the nuclear option of sacking. Such an employer will want to look good and appear upstanding.

This means some of those employees who are psychologically under the whip will be given roles of responsibility in order for their employer to satisfy queries about their commitment to the upward mobility and growth of their staff. Usually this empowerment involves roles and responsibilities which the employer and his cabal lack the time or retained desire to engage in.

The employers' method of control for such employees seems to borrow from the Jim Crow files and involves things such as suppressing compliments about the employee while magnifying criticism of said employee. Such employers encourage the employee to show initiative and get the job done, in instances where they say that ingredient is lacking.

Yet in other instances where the employee does demonstrate initiative, the employer will rage that the employee should have sought clearance before embarking on a course of action, even if such action doesn't prove injurious to the business.


If the employee is very talented but highly strung, the strategy of withholding compliments and commendations while broadcasting their errors or failures becomes approach of choice, written into the pages of the employers' playbook.

If employers are in government and after a journeyman career in the public service find themselves in the position of senior executive, the employees' corner can only be dark. Such an employer, given that they're in real terms only parvenus, parachuted into positions of leadership because of the narrowness of the skill range within the public sector, will always have concrete blocks on their shoulders.

They will eschew rational discussions with their staff in favour of ranting or raving at workers too frightened to talk back out of fear their contracts will not be renewed. They are the ones who foam in wrath at the emergence of any problem, targeting certain members of staff, especially women or effeminate men, with the kind of mental and verbal abuse that has no place in any workplace.

These employers are the meeting room bullies who bawl and shout to mask the fact that intellectually they aren't nearly as strong as a curry-goat plate. These are the most dangerous kinds of employers who believe the best form of management is to unsettle their workers in the dunce belief that this will enhance their performance.

The existence of these employers in the public and private sector and in a country where the employer is king because of the shortage of jobs makes me happy for the presence of our trade unionists. I respect them all, even that veteran who when he speaks inside Bill's house, is always quarrelling and sounding like a man who could start an argument in an empty room.

The trade unionists are the protectors of so many good employees in this country who suffer indignities from men and women playing boss in the workplace. In real terms and with due respect to PATH, our trade unionists and shop stewards are the real social safety net. They're the superheroes protecting workers as they bite their tongue and suppress their anger in order to protect the livelihoods of their families.


George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to and