[shade shift]A shift in working practices
2021-08-12 06:05:13


  Diana Mahabir-Wyatt

  Thursday 10 June 2021

  In this file photo, Frederick Street in Port of Spain is packed with pedestrians and cars as people go about their business. Employers may find a shift in working practices when businesses are allowed to reopen. - SUREASH CHOLAIIn this file photo, Frederick Street in Port of Spain is packed with pedestrians and cars as people go about their business. Employers may find a shift in working practices when businesses are allowed to reopen. – SUREASH CHOLAI

  Interestingly, employers in other countries complain that, as covid restrictions recede and shops can once more open, they cannot open because they cannot find staff. People who were willing to work before are not willing to come back under the old conditions or at the old wages. Either they are afraid, or they saved so much from the one-third government-wages grant some of the wealthier countries like the US were able to pay during the shutdown that they feel they no longer need to work, which is so unlikely as to be a fantasy,

  Whatever the reason, it marks a big shift. It happened in the west after the Black Plague, as well. People who were tied to the land and worked only for a share of what they could grow were no longer satisfied with that level of peonage. Landholders either had to start paying wages or let the land go fallow as people moved to the cities and employment in factories. As miserable as that was, it was better than peasant farming.

  It happened here too. During the last world war, people left the land and went to work for the Yankees. Lands lay fallow for a long time.

  It doesn’t have to be a pandemic that causes a change in working practices. Real shifts are seldom seen, as they are happening, to be the evolutionary adjustments they are. Real change is the one that people just accept as normal. New normal.

  There was a time, not so very long ago, when the finance industry was mainly staffed, top to bottom, with masculinities that were a whiter shade of pale. Then, as demands for salary increases rose sharply, the more clever and perceptive CEOs began snapping up the better qualified, intelligent and efficient women before their competitors caught on. They prospered, with more able, less expensive employees who were just glad to be employed. The pay was accepted as though it was normal. And so it was, then. The “new normal.”

  The “whiter shade of pale” numbers in the population, which included Chinese, Creole, Portuguese, Hispanic and Basque, were less than seven per cent, and that included the aged, the infirm, and children, so, inevitably, colourism shifted into credentialism, and before anyone caught on, both gender and complexion had changed in the finance industry.

  “Back in the day” when I was growing up, it was boy children who were sent to university if funds were limited, as they always were. Middle-class girls who did not get the rare scholarships were expected to go to secretarial school or to do nursing or nutrition before ACCA schools were opened to them.

  Now 80 per cent of graduates of most western universities are female. When I asked a pro vice chancellor of UWI what caused the shift, he answered calmly, with only a slight shrug of his gowned shoulders: “It was a change in policy. We changed the rule that females had to have marks ten-15 per cent higher than men to qualify for university places. Now that we’ve removed that restriction, women are just rising to their natural level.”

  As for not being able to find the right kind of workers for customer-service positions, there is a new normal coming up there as well. Most jobs that will be available in the new normal, the experts tell us, will be service positions. Robotic machinery, internet and online apps will have replaced 75 per cent of the rest.

  Where people cannot hold down people-relationship jobs, it is almost always the employee’s “attitude” that is blamed, seldom the supervisor’s lack of people-management skills.

  Sometimes that blame game has it right. We have all run across surly and indifferent service – from security guards, behind the coffee-shop counter and in medical facilities, so it is not, as is sometimes implied, only in government offices. Sometimes it is simply a lack of “broughtupcy,” so that employees assume that a grunt and a pointed finger will suffice. That is what they learned at school and at home, where courtesy was neither practised nor expected.

  In other instances, the problem is institutional. Structural indifference, for example, is shown in the failure of an organisation to provide wheelchair access or assistance for other temporarily disabled people.

  None of us is any more than temporarily able-bodied. At any time, this may change. I am one of those people who break bones often, starting with bones in my foot, my ankles, both legs, etc. For the first broken leg I was sent to an x-ray centre on Tragarete Road that could only be accessed by climbing up several steps. Hello? Climb steps with a broken leg? Do they not know why people need x-rays?

  At any time in our lives, we may lose some ability – to see, to hear, to walk. This does not mean you lose the ability to think, to use a computer, to do accounts or bookkeeping or talk to customers. Think internet.

  Differently-abled employees are not

  dis-abled, they are just differently-abled, and in many cases are even more loyal, hard-working, emotionally intelligent and focused on their responsibilities than “able”-bodied people are. They are graduating from university, managing staff, teaching school and doing surgery.

  With a few environmental adjustments and/or a prosthesis, they function. They can design Carnival costumes and run races. They seem to adapt to informatics like ducks to water. If born blind they have been known to hear changes in vibration, pitch, tone and sound essential for tuning instruments and machinery, opening locks or composing music. Apparently, given training, they develop parts of their brains not used due to lack of sight to expend on another. So they become “super-abled.”

  They are a scarcely-tapped resource pool of expertise. Far-sighted employers should go fishing in those pools.