A key University of the West Indies (UWI) academic has come up with a Rescue Plan for Barbados that includes a reduced work-week in the public service and a way to save the next generation.
Director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) Dr Don Marshall is suggesting that such a plan should go hand-in-hand with a new development model which is best-suited to cover the COVID-19 crisis period which he forecasts will last at least another three years.
“I actually believe that we have a golden opportunity as a country and as a region, to remake the development model and priorities afresh. We have a chance to advance our human dignity and talk about things like a reduced work-week or new sectors on which we can have some emphasis or value-added,” the social and economic thinker told Barbados TODAY.
“We can have these conversations where before an all-out services-based model predominated and passed off as economics was engaging in merchant capital activity and tourism-based activity. Today, that conversation has to change by dint of the fact that we are not likely to attract sufficient tourists in the short to medium term. When I say short to medium, I am really talking about the next year to three years when we are not likely to get back the level of tourists and spend we find ideal,” Marshall declared.
The SALISES head said it is time to remake who “we are culturally…who we are productively and encourage entrepreneurship along several different kinds of dimensions…and also embrace innovation.”
The UWI academic warned Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her counterparts in the region that history will judge them “very, very harshly” if the post-lockdown moment is not used to undergo the kinds of transformation that decolonization promised.
“The world was a different place at that time. Right now it’s one where tourism is taking a knock; you are forced to diversify and as you diversify, you say, ‘look, whenever tourism rebounds, here is what we will be offering the visitors…development in the arts, culture, marine economy, encouraging international businesses to look at research and development; bio-technology,” Marshall stated.
His proposed new model also pays attention to entrepreneurs and incentivizing them once they are innovative; asking the merchant capital lobby that is predominating in buying and selling and real estate prospecting, insurance and banking, to start thinking of capitalizing sustainable innovative futures.
Marshall added: “Look to be one of the equity partners or investors along a value-added route that the country and region must pursue. We could look at China as a region and not just a bi-lateral state and say ‘if you want to make a contribution to the Caribbean help us tackle hard infrastructural constraints like our regional transport. Donate ships or look at Caribbean airlift’.”
He said the parameters for state policy in action and CARICOM policy in action have shifted fundamentally and it is time to look forward to a brighter future.
“I actually think it is a crisis that should not be allowed to waste,” the UWI scholar suggested.
Addressing a reduced work week, Marshall said: “We have an opportunity to start to revise what we mean by a 40-hour work week. Is that necessary? Do we need a 40-hour work week across the public sector? Don’t we want to encourage the public sector to map out home agriculture, to start businesses and so on?
“We need to relax some of these rules around what they can do and give them opportunities to work 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and pursue some other kind of entrepreneurial self-employment opportunity as well as give opportunity for quality time to raising our children. Our children in 2021 would have been affected by not being able to attend school,” he declared.
The academic said now is as good a time to start thinking about reducing the 40-hour work week.
He suggested that in the meantime, studies can be done on the levels of productivity which the country has had and productivity gains that can derived once Barbados can unlock the potential of its large public sector where they can work five hours a day rather than eight hours a day.
In support of his case for a reduced work week, Marshall argued that while the first five hours are productive the other three are not. Those latter hours can be spent either in leisure, entrepreneurial activity or with family.
“We are talking about making a better society and we are talking about that in lieu of a wage hike. So our economies will not realize growth in the next two to three years sufficient enough to start to think about wage increases across-the-board. So giving back in terms of time and quality is a step in the right direction,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“Certainly it will ease some of the social pressure that women face with a double work day…working eight hours a day in the public sector each week and other areas of work and having to go home on evenings and do the next set of work for recuperation, maintenance, care of our loved ones and children,” he said.
“I think we can do so much with this moment to start thinking about what ideal types of societies we want and the kind of economy that can be compatibly shaped with the shaping of new norms around social development and living out one’s island life with dignity…not this slavish adherence to work meaning eight hours a day, of which two or three are largely unproductive,” Marshall declared.
“So you can get a half hour break for lunch and work five hours in the public sector. Obviously, there are some areas of employment that would have to stick to the traditional eight hours, but that we hold salaries and wages the same. This is a wonderful time to re-imagine development policy and research and what kind of future we want. So we call on persons in law, social sciences and entrepreneurs to start re-imagining that future,” the SALISES director submitted.
He contended that there must be dialogue on how to sustain productivity while at the same time create a space for more entrepreneurial opportunity, more caring and sharing and more leisure.
Marshall said that with more leisure, the country’s night time economy, such as restaurant operations and entertainment, can get the boost it so desperately needs from tourists.
“The only way you can get that boosted and so on is if you encourage an entertainment evening and night economy where people have more discretionary time even if they don’t have discretionary funds in sufficient amounts. But it creates an opportunity for people to do things at reasonable prices and it creates an opportunity to start businesses.
“We need to tackle these things now because we have a myriad of challenges ahead and because youth unemployment is still too disturbingly high. We have done the research at SALISES that the Caribbean is the region with the highest level of unemployment…and if you are not going to adjust ways to open up avenues for earning revenue or building partnerships, the youth might have to work alongside with salaries of those in the public service or with those that work in the private sector that work normal 9 to 5. They might need to join with them to take a plunge to risk in doing something that can sustain them between 5 and 8 o’clock.
“You have to think outside the box and one sure way of doing that is to literally not work till you drop. From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. would allow you to get home and help your children with their homework especially having been affected by COVID restrictions. You are saving a generation who just went through COVID and perhaps have lost a better part of an entire school year in quality education,” Dr Marshall contended.
“Barbados needs a rescue plan for the next two to three years and part of that rescue plan is saving our children. I am talking about those children between ages 5 and 18 and one might even argue university level – but ages 5 to 18…getting the basics right in primary and secondary school…the last 10 to 12 months have not been kind to them because of COVID,” he said.