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Over the past few weeks there has been much discussion on the question of productivity, which, perhaps, has been intensified because of the fact that the Productivity Council has designated this year, 2017, as The Year of Productivity.

The Barbados Workers’ Union gives full support to the Productivity Council, on whose board our general secretary, Comrade Toni Moore sits. We fully support the Productivity Council’s project, whose theme is “Getting Everybody to Understand Productivity – G.E.T.U.P.) because, unlike what some naysayers may say, the Barbados Workers’ Union recognises that every Barbadian worker, meaning employer and every employee, should strive to give of their excellent best when once they have entered the gates of their places of employment. Productivity gains are vital to the Barbados economy as they mean that more is being accomplished with less.

The problem, though, in Barbados is that when we listen to most of the talkers, whether they are pontificating on the call-in programmes or they are sounding off at formal functions, they tend to pay little, if at all, any attention to the physical and psychological factors that enhance productivity – their single concern appears to be the worker with bad habits. And, yes, there will always be people who have poor working attitudes, not only those at the bottom round of the ladder but also at leadership levels in all spheres of human activity. But it’s always easy to blame the worker.

When some of us speak about productivity we often forget that a human – man or woman – is at the centre of the production process. And that a human, whether that human is a man or woman, apart from being a physical being made of flesh, blood and bones, is also a spiritual and emotional being and is therefore conditioned and influenced by the physical and psychological environment in which he or she is placed.

It is for that reason that we wish to focus on illness and injury and their impacts on productivity loss and economic growth. Our home environment, our work environment and our social environment seriously impact our behaviours. Some of us seem to believe that we can treat human beings in this seemingly godless, unstable and unpredictable age where internecine violence prevails and global conflict and uncertainty reigns, in the same way that we treated people in the days of Nero, the Roman Emperor, or the manner in which our people were treated by the old slave master of colonial Barbados. We seem to believe that we can place workers in squalid working spaces, with poor lighting, noisy and hot or cold surroundings, harmful mold growth, poor ventilation, antiquated or inadequately maintained machinery, noxious chemical fumes, vector-infested environs, untrained and or uncouth supervision, as well as bullying, underscored by a stress filled atmosphere of anxiety caused by lay-offs or impending lay-offs and expect God’s creation to operate at their maximum.

We give one other example. At the other end of the scale as it relates to productivity, there are other challenges for the average worker such as getting to work on time and getting home on time. Yes, we are talking about the inadequacy of the transportation system, the perennial traffic jams, inadequacy of buses by the state-run institution, and indiscipline by the private-run bus system

Now let’s turn to public health issues and their severe burden on the Barbados economy. Two years ago, the B.W.U.’s Annual Report, in assessing the burden of NCDs, indicated that the macro-productivity indicator project showed that in the year 2013, across seven major economic sectors, the Barbados economy loss was 4, 641, 452 hours with an average direct costs of $145,520.687. Manufacturing and financial services accounted for 2.7 million hours loss and more than $105 million in direct costs. The potential loss or opportunity cost was almost triple, $577 million which amounted to the value of goods and services that could have been earned.

We will now use statistical information put out by the Health and Safety Executive in the United Kingdom for the year – 2014/2015 to illustrate the heavy burden which injuries and illnesses impose on the economy of that country. The statement reads, each year significant numbers of workers are injured or made ill by their work. These cases impose ‘human cost’ in terms of the impact on the individual’s quality of life and for fatal injuries, loss of life, as well as the ‘financial costs, such as loss of production due to absence from work, and healthcare costs. The total economic costs of workplace injuries and ill health include both the financial costs and a valuation of the human costs. The statement revealed that annually between 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016, an average of 622 000 workers were injured in workplace accidents and a further 528 000 worker suffered a new case of ill health which they believed to be caused or made worse by their work.

Estimates of the economic costs of these cases revealed illness costs the UK economy 9.3 billion pounds sterling which was the equivalent of 17 600 pounds sterling per case

Workplace injury and illness costs the UK economy in 2014 to 2015 14.1 billion pounds sterling.

Injury costs the UK economy 4.8 billion pounds sterling, equivalent to unit cost of 1.6 million pounds sterling per fatal injury, and 7, 400 pounds sterling per non-fatal injury.

The statement made the point that the preceding costs provide a good representation of the cost of illness and injury arising from current working conditions and that the majority of cots fall on individuals, while employers and government/taxpayers bear a similar proportion of the cots of workplace injury and ill health.

We have dealt with the physical – accidents, injuries and illnesses. Let’s turn now to mental health issues such as work-related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain, as reported by the Health and Safety Executive.

According to the Health and Safety Executive in the UK, the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the year 2015/2016 was 488 000 cases, a prevalence rate of 1510 per 100 000 workers.

The number of new cases was 224 000, an incidence rate of 690 per 100 000 workers. The estimated number and rate have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.

The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015/216 was 11.7 million days. This equated to an average of 23.9 days lost per case. Working days lost per worker showed a generally downward trend up to around 2009/10; since then the rate has been broadly flat.

In 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health

Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, health and social care; and public administration and defence.

By occupation, jobs that are common across public service industries such as healthcare workers, teaching professionals, business, media and public services professionals show higher levels of stress as compared to all jobs.

The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work stress, depression or anxiety were work overload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.