Columns

40,000 jobs? Really?

MARK WIGNALL

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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IF the Jamaica Observer's celebration of Fashion's Night Out proved one thing, it is that there is still a small but significant percentage of Jamaicans with disposable income that are willing to spend their money on consumer items if they are convinced that they are getting a bigger, better deal.

In general, though, demand is low and employers who had laid off workers in the 2008/2009 period had done less downsizing than 'rightsizing'. That means that those companies, small, medium and large, which survived during those turbulent times of economic uncertainty basically have no intention of hiring any new staff unless the economy does more than a significant uptick and demand for goods and services increases beyond what it was prior to the global recession.

It is accepted that quite apart from Jamaica's long-term date with anaemic economic performance, we are still feeling the effects of the recession. For this reason any programme from any quarter which has the potential to boost or stimulate the economy must be welcomed. What we do not need, however, are those who are selling what may turn out to be empty promises.

After seeing the screaming headlines, '40,000 jobs' I was about to jump for joy at the thought that some sort of dent was about to be made in our chronic unemployment situation. What I heard being discussed on radio was the JCC speaking, not so much about a firm intention among its members to provide employment for 40,000 Jamaicans, but a plea being made for each organisation to employ one or two additional workers.

So, the '40,000' jobs headline was in the same league as that infamous road to hell, paved with good intentions. But how could I be so mean after the nation was told that an MOU was signed? Wow! An MOU! A piece of paper with 40,000 jobs written on it. If those words could only bear the scrutiny of reality.

With low demand in the marketplace and with those lucky workers who have jobs finding that they have had to be doubling up and tripling up in an effort to hang on to those jobs, how will an employer, struggling to meet the monthly pay bill, latch on to this MOU and, in a noble burst of nationalism and patriotism, squeeze one more employee onto the staff roster.

The last time I checked, this was still a market economy where people who were in business did so to make money. Granted, no employer with a social conscience can feel at ease knowing of the staggering rates of unemployment among our young, especially that 'endangered' species, our growing population of poorly educated, untrained young men.

A plea to employers based on an MOU will always sound good coming from a platform in a New Kingston hotel, but it is hardly survivable after the effects of the cocktails wear off.

The PNP administration's JEEP was always just an election campaign gimmick, dished out to con the gullible. It worked, but so far the JEEP has not left the back of the garage. How could it when there was no funding in place. How could it when the first gear of our immediate economic future, a new IMF agreement, had not been engaged? How could it when the leadership of the PNP administration seem not to have any coherent policy on any direction, forward, backward, neutral or reverse. How could we be talking so boldly about 40,000 jobs as if they had been identified and would be filled in the next month when all that there was was a piece of paper with 40,000 written on it. If it is not a sick joke then I am seriously missing something.

Too many young men who voted PNP spent much time after the election waiting for JEEP. One suspects that they have now got the message -- there was never and will never be any JEEP. So what are we doing again in this joint government/private sector Jamaica Employ announcement? Fooling them again?

I want someone to prove me wrong.

This small employer hates poverty

One reader who emailed me comments in response to my column of last Thursday said, ‘Where Kuan Yew and Singapore are concerned I disagree with the predominant sentiment that Singapore is virtually heaven on earth. Kuan Yew became a dictator of the right who in Wignall’s words “neutered trade unions, almost obliterated political opposition, made the media redundant, and introduced many draconian laws”. Outside of its First World economy what has Singapore contributed to the world?’

I disagree in part with the reader part who goes on to state, ‘Jamaica for all its problems continues to astonish the world by its brazen achievements. We created the world’s newest religion in Rastafarianism, one of the world’s most popular music forms in reggae, our cuisine has become standard fare in the finest restaurants across the world, and we are the sprint capital of the world. Brand Jamaica is massive. For all our problems the choice of Jamaica as a place to live, over Zimbabwe and Singapore is for some of us an easy one.’

My disagreement stems from a belief that we as a country must first serve the interests of our people before we begin to ‘astonish the world’. Granted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being the sprint capital of the world but would it not have been much better if our GDP per capita was US$40,000 than the fraction of that as it is now?

One reader said he/she employed three people, then said, ‘I have read Lee Kuan Yew’s entire book and he was a real LEADER! He was dead right on Jamaica. I employ 3 people and they despise working hard; they literally feel I am punishing them whenever hard work is required. Is this resistance to hard work a residue from the forced labour days of slavery?

‘On the matter of the price the Singaporeans paid for their ECONOMIC freedom, to be frank with you, Mr Wignall, I would exchange all my constitutional freedoms to live under LEADERSHIP committed to sound economics. I would give up ALL my other constitutional freedoms for the promise of the FREEDOM not to be confronted with poverty every single day; from the minute I leave my home until I return at night.

‘I despise, abhor, hate, and am disgusted by poverty. ‘I despise poverty not just because I have compassion for the poor and sympathise with their plight, I also hate poverty because of the effect it has on me — I hate being begged, I hate being hassled to buy this, that and the other, I hate being shown people living without shelter on the news, I hate seeing raggedy children, I hate seeing pregnant teenagers who have made zero contribution to society making demands on the public health system (linked to poverty as the Family Planning Board noted recently that the poor shun contraception).

‘I hate seeing school girls getting involved with older perverts who pay their school fees, I hate the culture where women have children as a way of making a living, I hate reading of people eating rotten food from the Riverton Dump, I hate the chaos and disorder on the streets of our towns as everyone is selling this, that and the other, and others "loading up" people for our poor excuse for a transportation system with that desperate edginess for the next dollar.

‘I hate the way criminals will snuff out a life for a few dollars, I hate seeing the guys on the corner, I hate the maddriving taximan who views the road as his route to his next dollar, I hate the smell of stale urine that confronts me every time I go to the Supreme Court, I hate the way politicians exploit the poor for their votes, and I hate the illiteracy, superstition and ignorance that go with poverty. In short, I hate the way poverty DE-HUMANISES people.

‘All the aspects of life in Jamaica that I despise are all linked to poverty. Singaporeans are not confronted daily with poverty. Mr Wignall, I would give up all the freedoms I now enjoy in exchange for the FREEDOM not to have to confront poverty.

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