Boys employees serve the first set of meals at the food groups
new food mall in Pointe-a-Pierre.
GUARDIAN FILE PHOTO
National Canners Ltd could increase its production by as much
as 50 per cent if it were not for a shortage of labour in
T&T, said its joint managing director Jeremy Matouk.
cant meet demand, locally or abroad. I could expand
production in my company by a cool 50 per cent and sell everything,
Matouk said. I could take on 50-60 people tomorrow morning.
my particular companys circumstances, exports to Canada
and the US are booming. Theres a much increased demand
for our products and we are having a hell of a struggle to
meet that demand.
National Canners is a food processing company, specialising
in sauces, condiments, beans and vegetables.
Matouk said he knows of some manufacturers who were once able
to operate at peak efficiency with three shifts on their production
lines, but now they have difficulty manning one shift.
with two shifts are now barely able to get one, and those
with three shifts are lucky if they get two, Matouk
He outlined the scenario with workers: they work four days
a week, but dont show up for the fifth. The effect is
that a production line has to be shut down. Workers from another
line have to be rerouted to run the plant, which reduces daily
According to the 2005 Review of the Economy, the community
social and personal services sectors attracted the most labour.
That category accounted for 31 per cent of the employed labour
force. It was followed by wholesale/retail trade, restaurants
and hotels with 18 per cent and construction with 17 per cent.
Manufacturing not connected to the petrochemical sector accounted
for just nine per cent.
Asked to describe the extent of the problem, Matouk said:
Its bad, very bad. We cant raise our output.
a very common problem, Matouk said.
He said some business people have had to increase wages by
as much as 20 per cent to retain their employees, adding its
difficult to attract new workers by paying them minimum wage.
with good skills will get hunted. You have to come up with
inventive ways to keep people, Matouk said.
Matouk, who said his company, which has been in operation
since 1967, has only advertised for specialised positions,
but now finds itself resorting to repeating ads in newspapers.
He said aside from not getting sufficient workers to run his
manufacturing plant, those that do show an interest in being
employed dont have suitable work attitudes,
a situation he described as a malaise in the country.
Matouk, who described the difficulty in sourcing reliable,
skilled labour as artificial, said the problem wont
be that bad were it not for governments make-work
He said some employees have left full-time work in favour
of the makework programmes.
dont have to work all day. Many of them do that to get
some income and then they will look for part-time work. The
problem is that it is causing wages to increase without productivity
increasing, Matouk said.
Matouk said including people employed in make-work programmes
in employment statistics is intellectually dishonest.
He said while make-work programmes were laudable for those
people who lacked skills, he understood that government-initiated
training programmes were largely under subscribed.
He said while some workers were receiving a free lunch,
businesses were suffering.
Paul Quesnel, a director at Kiss Baking Company Ltd and also
president of the T&T Manufacturers Association,
described the labour shortage as severe.
Quesnel said Kiss presently needs a minimum of 30 workers
across the board.
are looking for people. We advertise. We have people walk
off the streets, Quesnel said. We headhunt wherever
necessary. We have lost people to other organisations.
Quesnel said an employee who fails to report for work means
that another worker has to be shifted around to operate a
shift, which may mean the company having to pay double and
the same time, you are now working an employee who has already
done a days work and hes tired and youre
not getting the best out of him, Quesnel said.
paying him more and working a tired person longer hours, which
is not good. People have their business to do at home and
their families to see about.
Quesnel said business people across the board have in the
last year been forced to sweeten the pot in various
ways to attract and retain workers.
are offering attendance bonuses. If you come to work every
day, you get an extra something, Quesnel said.
is causing the cost of doing business to escalate. The cost
of producing what you produce goes up and when you have to
sell it, you become less competitive, Quesnel said.
food business under pressure
Esau, chairman of Prestige Holdings, which includes the KFC
fast food chain, said even though the group is facing a 25
per cent increase in wage costs, attracting workers in the
restaurant industry is increasingly difficult.
biggest challenge today is not only hiring new people, but
keeping the ones we have, Esau said.
Esau shares Matouks view that governments public
work programmes were hiring people away from the service industry.
pushed wages up 25 per cent over the last year. We also have
the challenge of overtime. When youre working with a
short staff, you also have the reality of overtime, which
pushes the wage bill, Esau said.
Esau said newly-hired employees are paid $10 an hour, $1 above
the minimum wage, and this figure goes up with incentives.
He said Prestige Holdings has had to lower the entry level
for employees from five OLevels to three.
now making significant compromises because we cant get
the amount and the quality we want. All our restaurants are
short-staffed, Esau said.
He said the need for employees at its KFC restaurants is worst
along the East/West corridor, but the situation in the north
is not much better.
the time when the private sector should be humming with activity,
government is competing with the private sector for labour,
the high labour employers are suffering significant challenges
with respect to hiring and retention.
Prestige Holdings cited its labour challenge in its published
unaudited results for the first six months of 2006.
In that report, Esau described the shortage as a challenge
to our business.
continue to use creative approaches to reduce this imbalance
and mitigate its effect on our performance, Esau stated
in the report.
workers hard at work. Construction is one of the sectors that
has attracted a great deal of labour as a result primarily
of Government expenditure.