TTMA wants manufacturing sector fully open, sooner

The Trinidad and To­ba­go Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (TTMA) is mak­ing an­oth­er ap­peal to Gov­ern­ment to con­sid­er a full re­open­ing of the sec­tor, ahead of sched­ule, to en­sure mil­lions of dol­lars worth in ex­port or­ders won’t be lost.

In an of­fi­cial state­ment is­sued to­day, TTMA Pres­i­dent, Fran­ka Costel­loe states there is an ur­gent need to se­cure jobs, sta­bilise the econ­o­my and pro­tect fam­i­lies.

She al­so ar­gues that giv­en this coun­try’s suc­cess with slow­ing the spread of COVID-19, “there is no sol­id ra­tio­nale for sus­tain­ing the clo­sure or for deny­ing her re­main­ing mem­bers the op­por­tu­ni­ty to go back to work and to put their peo­ple back in­to em­ploy­ment”.

The full text of the TTMA state­ment, fol­lows…

—TT$ Mil­lions in Ex­port Or­ders to be Lost

The coun­try has been on lock down since 30th March in or­der to cur­tail the spread of the dread­ed Covid19 virus, whose dam­ag­ing ef­fects to health we are see­ing glob­al­ly. The Trinidad and To­ba­go Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (TTMA), ap­plauds the gov­ern­ment’s swift re­sponse to clos­ing our bor­ders to deal with the threat and com­mends the Min­istry of Health on the ef­forts tak­en to ef­fec­tive­ly con­trol the spread lo­cal­ly. It must be not­ed that dur­ing this pe­ri­od of lock down, the food and bev­er­age, agro pro­cess­ing, clean­ing prod­ucts, hy­giene, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, food pack­ag­ing and PPE man­u­fac­tur­ers of the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor have con­tin­ued to op­er­ate as es­sen­tial ser­vices.

About 1,000 com­pa­nies com­prise the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. Of those, 530 are cur­rent­ly reg­is­tered mem­bers of the TTMA and 273 are clas­si­fied as es­sen­tial busi­ness­es. This means that an av­er­age of 50% of man­u­fac­tur­ers have been safe­ly op­er­at­ing over the past eight weeks and have suc­cess­ful­ly man­aged to con­trol the spread of the Covid-19 virus over a sus­tained pe­ri­od. The TTMA be­lieves that this valid sam­ple group con­firms that the ro­bust guide­lines and pro­to­cols that the sec­tor has put in place across the na­tion, is work­ing—and work­ing well.

It is es­ti­mat­ed that some 52,000 per­sons work in the sec­tor and with the re­duced head­count per­mit­ted to work, some 15,000 or 30% of es­sen­tial staff have now been test­ed by the sys­tem dur­ing the manda­to­ry lock­down pe­ri­od. An im­por­tant proof-point in this re­gard, is the steady and sus­tained de­cline of Covid-19 cas­es while such a large per­cent­age of mem­ber com­pa­nies are al­ready up and run­ning.

Re­search shows that Trinidad and To­ba­go has de­clined from 116 cas­es to 1, rank­ing sec­ond, be­hind on­ly Viet­nam in its readi­ness to roll back lock­down mea­sures—this, ac­cord­ing a study by Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty’s Blavat­nik School of Gov­ern­ment at the end of April.

To date there has been no known case of Covid-19 spread in a fac­to­ry set­ting. The TTMA is there­fore ad­vo­cat­ing that the re­main­ing mem­bers be al­lowed to open and op­er­ate—es­pe­cial­ly giv­en that they are bound by the same guide­lines and pro­to­cols un­der which the es­sen­tial busi­ness­es have been op­er­at­ing.

The TTMA be­lieves that the lit­mus test un­der­tak­en by op­er­at­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers sup­ports the call for a re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the sched­uled date and an im­me­di­ate re­open­ing of the sec­tor. TTMA Pres­i­dent, Fran­ka Costel­loe says there is no sol­id ra­tio­nale for sus­tain­ing the clo­sure or for deny­ing her re­main­ing mem­bers the op­por­tu­ni­ty to go back to work and to put their peo­ple back in­to em­ploy­ment.

There is an ur­gency of se­cur­ing jobs, sta­bi­liz­ing the econ­o­my and keep­ing fam­i­lies pro­tect­ed.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing work­ers are ea­ger to get back to busi­ness. Costel­loe be­lieves that the de­lay is al­so weak­en­ing T&T’s hold on trade and earn­ing much need­ed for­eign ex­change for our coun­try.

The es­sen­tial man­u­fac­tur­ers who have been work­ing over the 8-week lock down pe­ri­od have in so do­ing, pro­vid­ed a blue print of safe­ty pro­to­cols which in­cludes: hy­giene con­trol, pro­vi­sion of shut­tles where pos­si­ble to min­i­mize the use of pub­lic trans­port, no ex­ter­nal vis­i­tors to the fac­to­ries, work­ing from home with the nec­es­sary plat­forms made avail­able to em­ploy­ees, im­ple­ment­ing a shift sys­tem for em­ploy­ees cou­pled with so­cial dis­tanc­ing, use of prop­er per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment—com­ple­ment­ed by train­ing of staff ac­cord­ing to the new pro­to­cols. These stan­dards are to be adopt­ed by non-es­sen­tial mem­bers to in­cor­po­rate in­to their HSE com­pli­ance process­es. They ful­ly un­der­stand the weight of re­spon­si­bil­i­ty and the im­pact on busi­ness sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

The TTMA be­lieves that gov­ern­ment should take in­to con­sid­er­a­tion that the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor is well po­si­tioned to gen­er­ate much need­ed for­eign ex­change at a time when the en­er­gy sec­tor is un­der-per­form­ing due to pro­longed sup­pressed oil prices. It seems the pru­dent thing to do at this time, is to lever­age the ca­pac­i­ty of the sec­tor to bring about much need­ed eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus.

The TTMA has re­peat­ed­ly ex­pressed grave con­cern wher­ev­er it has been giv­en a voice, about the ef­fects of the lock­down on the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the sec­tor and loss of mar­ket share. While 13 oth­er neigh­bour­ing coun­tries have been ful­ly re­opened their man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor (in­clud­ing Ja­maica, Bar­ba­dos, Cos­ta Ri­ca and the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic), the man­u­fac­tur­ers deemed nonessen­tial in T&T are await­ing re-open­ing to ful­fil out­stand­ing ex­port or­ders.

Among the mem­ber­ship of the TTMA alone as of 14th April, nine­teen (19) non-es­sen­tial man­u­fac­tur­ers have ex­port or­ders to­talling TTD $103M. When the 2020 fig­ures for the pe­ri­od 28th March – 29th April is com­pared to that of 2019, it shows an alarm­ing de­cline in ex­ports of 66% (just over TTD $283M). A con­tin­ued loss in ex­port rev­enue for T&T can­not be sus­tained, es­pe­cial­ly with the cur­rent TTD $934M spent by the gov­ern­ment on COVID re­lief as of 12th May.

The TTMA mem­ber­ship is mak­ing an ap­peal to rea­son and fair play to al­low the oth­er 50% of man­u­fac­tur­ers to be al­lowed to re­open on Mon­day May 18th, 2020.

Pres­i­dent Fran­ka Costel­loe has writ­ten to the Re­cov­ery Com­mit­tee, the Prime Min­is­ter and the Min­is­ter of Health to sup­port this call for nec­es­sary and ur­gent re­lief of its mem­bers.

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