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Be flexible


by Emmanuel Joseph

Absenteeism has become a financial nightmare for employers in Barbados.

While expressing dismay at the level of time off being taken by workers, particularly in the public sector, Executive Director of the Barbados Employers Confederation, Tony Walcott, has come up with what he views as a solution to this state of affairs.

In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, Walcott recommended the urgent introduction of flexitime, proposals for which the confederation had submitted to the Ministry of Finance earlier this year and was awaiting a formal reponse.

“When I talk of absenteeism I include sick leave, whether it is casual sick leave, people’s assumption of an entitlement to sick leave, which does not exist in law, the whole issue of absence from work; that is the issue,” argued Walcott.

He said the confederation had calculated the losses in a number of companies and the figures were significant.

“A smallish company that we did some work for, looking at absenteeism over the last two years, they were being hit with numbers between 150 and 200 man days being lost in a year; and when you calculate that, based on the individuals’ basic pay, you were looking at between $20,000 and $30,000 in a year that the company was losing; because on those days that they were off sick, they were being paid according to whatever provisions that may be in place in collective agreements or otherwise,” disclosed the employers’ representative.

“At the national level, we have to deal with the issue of productivity. And a significant negative impact on productivity is the whole issue of dealing with the issue of absenteeism. The days off here, the days off there, which, when you add them up, come to a significant amount of money,” argued the BEC boss.

“I think one of the ways in which we can start to address some of these issues, is to look at implementing the issues of flexitime on a wider basis across the public sector. For instance you can’t get to pay your road tax before 9 o’clock a morning, and you’ve got to pay it by 3 o’clock, which means, anybody who’s working 8 until 4:30, has to find time out; either steal time out or beg for time out to come and deal with it.”

However, Walcott suggested that if some of those Government departments were opened by 6:30 a.m. or 7:30 a.m., that would provide an opportunity for such persons to either to come in early and pay it, or if opening hours were extended to 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., they could deal with the matter after work, without having to take time out.

“We are not asking that Government then employ more people, but it’s just that you deploy your people differently, to ensure you’ve got enough staff to cover your core period between, let’s say, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and that there is a skeleton staff at the beginning of the day, and a skeleton staff at the end of the day, which would provide you coverage, and nobody is being asked to work more than eight hours in any given day,” he noted.

The executive director said it was achievable and that it was being done in other parts of the world.

“Why can’t I buy stamps on a Saturday? Why do I have to get to the polyclinic by 3 o’clock on afternoons? Why must I get to pay my road tax by 3 o’clock on afternoons? I work from 8 until 4.30! Those are the kinds of issues, and until we are prepared to deal with this at the national level, which would involve, to a large extent, the unions having to sit at the table and accepting that the rigidity and inflexibility within the work systems, have got to change,” Walcott said.

He pointed out that while flexitime was required in the private sector as well, it was more needed at this time, in the public service. Walcott did admit that there were some variations of flexitime in the private sector.††

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