Desperate and dismal cycle of dependency
The latest eruption of fiery protests in east Port of Spain has been instigated by individuals whose actions will not invoke public sympathy. It turns out that those persons who were actually chosen for employment in cleaning and beautifying their areas are loudly rejecting the $69 rate for four hours' daily labour. This figure, which exceeds the minimum wage rate, is certainly a lot more than presumably unemployed, and even unemployable, people had been receiving. But their demand for higher pay and for sustainable employment has to be seen for what it is –a completely untenable expectation for special treatment over and above what workers doing similar Government-financed jobs are getting elsewhere in Trinidad and Tobago.
Indeed, even the term "sustainable employment" is being used as a slogan, revealing these persons' misunderstanding of the actual meaning of the adjective. For them, "sustainable" is a synonym for "permanent", whereas, in the real world of work, sustainability is inextricably linked to the production of marketable goods and services. And such production invariably requires skills, which some of these individuals do not have.
Not even National Security Minister Jack Warner, whose $5.5 billion portfolio doesn't include welfare-related employment programmes, can promise such favoured treatment for Port of Spain. Indeed, Mr Warner should have refrained from saying or doing anything to raise expectations to such unreachable heights. Still, the authorities should not be blackmailed by the spectacle of burning tyres, barricaded roads, and overturned cars into conceding unrealistic and unsustainable pay levels.
The problem is, the attitude of entitlement revealed by such excessive reactions has been deliberately engineered by politicians over decades, starting with the PNM and continued by the UNC and the People's Partnership. Yet PNM spokespersons have unblushingly tried to make political hay out of this latest Partnership misstep, with not a word of acknowledgement about the PNM's historical role in birthing such desperate dependency.
The protesters, for their part, are using the only strategies they know to extract resources from the State. They understand that politicians, first and foremost, care about their image and electability, and so the residents are hoping that public embarrassment would up the ante the Government is willing to pay for good public relations. What jobs they actually get, and for how long, is secondary to those in power.
If the People's Partnership administration really wants to break this dismal cycle, they should ensure that the participants in this programme receive the promised skills training to equip them for better, more permanent, employment. But politicians rarely want to teach a man to fish, since that deprives them of the opportunity to offer fish in exchange for votes. That is why this issue remains unsolved, even though it is far from unsolvable.