Working class Barbadians are being warned of significant “restructuring” and “down-sizing” in the private sector that is projected to continue for at least the next 24 months, but which could last much longer depending on COVID-19.
President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Trisha Tannis told Barbados TODAY that projections of modest growth may not be a true depiction of the reality on the ground.
Coming out of last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns, economists predicted that it would take no less than two years for the business sector to recover. And while the BCCI has not fully assessed the long-term impact of the current shutdown, the preliminary outlook is bleak.
“It is early days still and the lockdown really isn’t complete, so it would be premature because we still have sectors that are still pretty much in lockdown. But you could imagine that it would not improve the situation beyond the last projections and it would have worsened it,” Tannis noted.
“We are still looking pretty much to at least a two-year window as to when we can start to see genuine, organic growth and I emphasize that, because what we are seeing are projections of modest growth year-on-year and of course, when you have a year like 2020 when there’s a huge decline, anything registers as growth,” she added.
True growth, she explained would only occur when the economy returns to functioning at “pre-COVID buoyancy”.
“What we can start talking about is recovery and we must not confuse recovery with growth in the same context, because if you have hit rock bottom, anything registers as growth,” the BCCI president stressed.
As a result, she noted that not even the current re-opening of some businesses could spare the country from significant private sector layoffs that will continue for the foreseeable future.
“I think that is going to continue and it started in a very significant way in 2020. But you are going to see that continuing and deepening as a result of this current lockdown which would have dealt another blow to any business recovery efforts, being the second lockdown in less than a year. We all know why and we understand the context, but at the end of the day, the reality is that the consequences are also there as well,” said Tannis.
“On the ground, we can expect to see more change, more restructuring, more re-shaping and more re-engineering and that may have a negative consequence on employment levels or it may demand a different skill-set. One of the things that we have to do is to re-tool and retrain persons who are hopefully of a more resilient mindset because businesses may need different types of skills in different areas as they try to emerge and recover,” she added.
Unfortunately, she noted many have not continued to prioritize the e-commerce and technology push that started in the early days of the pandemic.
“Truthfully, the e-commerce and online platforms that were actually quite buoyant and sprung up quite quickly and many of the innovations that we saw in 2020, disappointingly went through a period of deceleration as soon as physical doors began to open. Some aspects have continued, but what we are seeing is that we still have a very strong demand for brick and mortar physical locations and presence,” Tannis pointed out.
“We are hoping that that does give some injection into stores and so on that may not have to close. We are hoping that landlords are beginning to maybe re-adjust rent and so on to more economically viable levels.
“What we may also see is that there needs to be some resilience and flexibility in the workforce as we try to protect them, keep them safe and ensure that they still have engaging workplaces and healthy workplaces to engage in whether at home or in a traditional workspace,” she added ([email protected])