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Businesses must ‘do more’ to up employees’ productivity

Executive responds to finding that Bahamas’ productivity trends ‘worst’ in region
  • Robert Myers.

Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 10, 2013

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“Fundamental issues” are impacting the labor productivity of Bahamian workers, and businesses should place greater emphasis on ensuring their staff develop their skills and “core competencies” to raise overall productivity, a Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation executive has stated.

Robert Myers, vice chairman of the BCCEC and founder of the Chamber

Institute, which aims to provide training to members, was responding to findings by the International Monetary Fund, revealed at the recent IMF Caribbean Growth Forum, that The Bahamas saw its labour productivity decline by one percent between 2000 and 2011, faring worst in the Caribbean on this measure.

The IMF identified “excessive wage growth” and the flight of highly-skilled Bahamians to seek work abroad as two issues impacting overall labour productivity measures in this nation.

Yesterday Myers, also president of V-Trade and the Caribbean Group of Companies, said “there’s no doubt that The Bahamas has some of the higher wages in the region when you consider places like Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic”.

He identified issues such as our high dependence on imports, given a lack of agricultural development, as factors which drive up the cost of living and ultimately, salaries.

“We pay our people in a week what some of those jurisdictions pay in a month and our power prices are generally higher. But I think some of the reasons why are really fundamental issues, in that people in Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba are able to live off the land to a greater extent, whereas we don’t,” he said.

“We are reliant on imports so costs go up, cost of living goes up, wages go up and yet more people slip into poverty. We don’t have arable land and water resources like some of these larger jurisdictions and larger countries.”

Meanwhile, Myers added that there is a lack of sector specific training to supplement employees’ productivity levels.

“As far as the Chamber and the Institute is concerned we recognize the need for specific industry training and imparting quality and accountability and these sorts of skill sets into our employees,” he said.

“That just makes good business sense and there needs to be more of it. There’s a lack of core competencies, skills, ethics, etc, and we need to be more focused on those kinds of things in business. It’s as much a business managers’ and owners’ issue as it is employees’.”

Myers questioned the suggestion that there has been “excessive wage growth” among the general workforce, however.

He added that this is reflected in the fact that businesses are constrained by a lack of “pricing elasticity”, finding themselves unable to pass on increasing business costs to consumers despite rising costs in recent years.

“This is something that concerns me with regard to VAT; we’ve got to watch the inflation because consumers can’t afford to just keep paying more,” he said.

“So wage growth would surprise me. I can’t imagine how anyone could be excessive in their wage growth. Certainly not in the private sector.”

Peter Goudie, head of the BCCEC’s labour division, said he views “education” as the primary cause of low labour productivity in The Bahamas.

Goudie said that stopping social promotion in the form of students who have not passed BJCs being moved through the high school system would go a long way towards beginning to address the lack of skills developed by many students leaving school.

And he urged that for those students who are not apt to take academic exams, the government should find alternative “streams” for them to pursue.

Meanwhile, Goudie said that the BCCEC is hoping to enhance skills throughout the workforce by  pushing for various professions to form associations as a means to expand certification efforts.

“We’re trying to get groups to form and do more for themselves, in terms of figuring out how to certify people in that profession. There should be more associations, certifications and courses,” said Goudie, adding that he also has high hopes that the National Training Agency will begin to plug some of the skills gaps in the workforce that may stymie productivity.

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