President of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Dianne Hadad is clear on the issues that businesses on the island are facing.
“Economically,” she said, “this is quite a crash.”
She called on the Government to “step in as father and take care of the children of the nation.”
Ms Hadad has called for a serious intervention, because she doesn’t believe that offering 25,000 food boxes and a $1,500 grant will fix the problems that confront Tobago.
She wasn’t the only business leader hoping for help for an out-of-work labour force. Construction Association president Glenn Mahabirsingh called on Finance Minister Colm Imbert to reconsider exempting construction workers from the Salary Relief Grant.
On Monday, Mr Imbert announced the grant, expected to cost the country $80 million. The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services will administer the grant, which targets workers who have been unemployed for the month of May. Anyone out of work from May 1 is eligible for a one-time payout of $1,500, dropping to $1,000 if income loss began on May 8.
The fund is open to “citizens and permanent residents of TT” and targets workers in the bar, gaming, restaurant, entertainment, tourism and spa industries, along with street vendors.
The government is budgeting $440 million for salary relief and other support initiatives over the coming months, and says 93,000 people have been approved for the grant so far.
Despite the big spend on relief, there remains the question of what the Government can sustainably do to respond to these ongoing disruptions in employment.
What role will the private sector embrace in managing the crisis that businesses face and in particular, the employees who end up bearing the brunt of business shutdowns?
With a shutdown potentially running for six more weeks, those challenges need to be more effectively met by a co-ordinated effort between business and government.
For one thing, for those who are still working, the welcome moves to extend priority vaccination to frontline workers, including energy-sector workers, should also include frontline workers in identified essential services, such as groceries and pharmacies.
While the government has stepped up with support systems to meet the most basic needs of those effectively put out of work by the public health restrictions, businesses must also consider meaningful outreach to their employees, focusing on their mental and emotional well-being as well as their primary needs.
They must also plan institutional support for employees stricken by covid19 who face longer periods of recovery.
On the other side of covid19, there must be a TT that stepped up with compassion, generosity and support in the face of these challenges, having demonstrated respect for its valued workforce.