Florista Victor Gill Ramirez//
The new normal


geisha.kow­[email protected]

As T&T slow­ly be­gins to reawak­en and tries to shake off the eco­nom­ic night­mare cre­at­ed by the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, man­u­fac­tur­ers have tak­en op­er­a­tional steps nec­es­sary to pro­mote ef­fec­tive health and safe­ty prac­tices dic­tat­ed by law and good sense.

Victor Gill Ramirez

The Busi­ness Guardian reached out to sev­er­al man­u­fac­tur­ers who said post-COVID means sig­nif­i­cant changes to their dai­ly op­er­a­tions.

Victor Augusto Gill Ramirez

Some of these mea­sures in­clude en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ers to de­vel­op and im­ple­ment poli­cies deal­ing with so­cial dis­tanc­ing, per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE), and tem­per­a­ture checks.

Victor Gill

Even the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­ni­ty Com­mis­sion (EEOC) in the Unit­ed States has is­sued a se­ries of guid­ance mem­os for em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing one that says it is per­mis­si­ble for em­ploy­ers to mea­sure the tem­per­a­tures and con­duct tests to de­tect the pres­ence of the virus in re­turn­ing work­ers

Ramesh Ma­haraj, the gen­er­al man­ag­er at Ven­car­ibbean Pa­per Prod­ucts Ltd said every month he in­vests around $10,000 in sani­tis­ing prod­ucts

It’s a small cost which Ma­haraj said has be­come ab­solute­ly nec­es­sary in safe­guard­ing the health of his work­ers and the fu­ture of his fac­to­ry

“I pre­fer to spend that mon­ey than to have to close my plant be­cause one of the work­ers gets COVID be­cause of me be­ing too cheap,” Ma­haraj said

“Let me cut my prof­its a lit­tle bit and be safe to con­tin­ue my busi­ness,” he said

Apart from PPE and the in­stal­la­tion of ad­di­tion­al sinks, tem­per­a­ture checks are done twice dai­ly and the so­cial dis­tanc­ing pol­i­cy is en­forced

Ma­haraj’s Ari­ma fac­to­ry is al­so sani­tised dai­ly

The num­ber of cus­tomers has al­so been lim­it­ed and en­try is on­ly per­mit­ted via the wear­ing of a mask

Pro­to­cols will al­so be en­forced be­fore en­try

Since the fac­to­ry is very spa­cious Ma­haraj said so­cial dis­tanc­ing is easy to man­age in ad­di­tion to which there are floor su­per­vi­sors

“On­ly so many peo­ple are al­lowed in the lock­er area at a time. When work­ers are ready to clock out they have to line up and keep apart via the six feet mark­er,” Ma­haraj fur­ther ex­plained

And like oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers stag­gered lunch hours have al­so been en­forced

Sean Roach, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Langston Roach In­dus­tries Ltd shared sim­i­lar mea­sures tak­en by his com­pa­ny

He said while a pol­i­cy has not been fi­nalised Langston Roach In­dus­tries has im­ple­ment­ed ther­mal read­ings on en­try and there’s the pos­si­bil­i­ty of even stag­ger­ing pro­duc­tion lines to an ex­tent

“A firm pol­i­cy has not been achieved but it’s a work in progress,” Roach said

Chris Al­cazar CEO of Vem­co Ltd out­lined sev­er­al mea­sures which the com­pa­ny im­ple­ment­ed go­ing for­ward

These in­clude the in­stal­la­tion of ad­di­tion­al hand wash and hand sani­tis­ing sta­tions, stag­gered hours of work and break pe­ri­ods, as well as work from home fa­cil­i­ta­tion and vir­tu­al meet­ings

Vem­co has al­so in­clud­ed ad­di­tion­al lunch fa­cil­i­ties, the screen­ing of em­ploy­ees in­clud­ing touch­less tem­per­a­ture checks, PPE for em­ploy­ees, and trans­porta­tion pro­to­col changes to fa­cil­i­tate phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing

Trade gen­er­al­ly do­ing well

Prod­ucts made in T&T are com­mon­place on the shelves of house­holds through­out Cari­com and are al­so avail­able in ter­ri­to­ries with which trade agree­ments ex­ist

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, Trade Min­is­ter Paula Gopee-Scoon en­sured the move­ment of car­go was un­in­ter­rupt­ed as she had in­struct­ed Works and Trans­port Min­is­ter Ro­han Sinanan to en­sure that the port of Port-of-Spain and Point Lisas were func­tion­ing ef­fec­tive­ly so that all in­com­ing goods would be cleared in a time­ly man­ner

Ma­haraj who sup­plies all the Eng­lish speak­ing coun­tries with bath­room tis­sue said the con­tin­u­a­tion of trade has been es­sen­tial for the sur­vival of lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers

The min­istry of trade des­ig­nat­ed some­one to li­aise with man­u­fac­tur­ers should any is­sues arise. Be­tween the min­istry, port and cus­toms they have done an ex­cel­lent job,” Ma­haraj added

While COVID-19 has been detri­men­tal to SMEs, ex­porters, how­ev­er, have ben­e­fit­ed

Ma­haraj said his com­pa­ny has record­ed a 50 per cent in­crease in de­mand re­gion­al­ly

On the lo­cal front, there has been al­most 100 per cent in­crease in de­mand for his prod­ucts which he al­so sup­plies to Gov­ern­ment of­fices

Langston Roach In­dus­tries Ltd which al­so ex­ports to all of the Eng­lish-speak­ing Cari­com coun­tries has al­so done well

This is be­cause the com­pa­ny man­u­fac­tures items such as hand sani­tis­ers, dis­in­fec­tants and clean­ing prod­ucts, Roach ex­plained

“We had a good de­mand for these items be­cause there was an in­creased de­mand for our prod­ucts dur­ing COVID,” he added

For Vem­co Ltd there was a “lift at first” re­gard­ing Cari­com ex­ports when COVID was first an­nounced, how­ev­er, this has since slowed down, Al­cazar ex­plained

“Some of the mar­kets…a lot of them are re­liant on tourism so they are go­ing through some re­al hard times as well,” Al­cazar stat­ed

“St Lu­cia, St Vin­cent, Grena­da, Bar­ba­dos… a lot of them went in­to lock­down even with su­per­mar­kets from the be­gin­ning so for us with food ex­ports we did see a rush at first with the pan­ic buy­ing but it has slowed down to the point where it has slowed down than pri­or year now,” Al­cazar said

Lo­cal­ly, he said, the com­pa­ny has seen a “very strong surge” in items like ketchup, pow­dered milk, may­on­naise and pas­ta

“This is still go­ing quite well,” Al­cazar added

Vem­co is one of the Caribbean’s lead­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of Fast Mov­ing Con­sumer Goods (FM­CG) in the Caribbean Re­gion

The com­pa­ny is con­stant­ly ex­pand­ing and ex­port­ing its man­u­fac­tured brands to more ter­ri­to­ries in the USA and Caribbean, re­cent­ly adding Pana­ma, Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, and Cu­ba, to its list

Al­cazar who said he is a bit con­cerned re­gard­ing the drop in ex­ports is, how­ev­er, hope­ful that busi­ness will flour­ish once again

“A lot of our brands are very strong and we are very con­scious of our pric­ing in terms of of­fer­ing a great prod­uct at good val­ue so we would be im­pact­ed a lot less than oth­er peo­ple or from US or UK im­ports,” he said

“We do an­tic­i­pate some mar­kets will be soft­er be­cause of the eco­nom­ic is­sues they will be grap­pling with which could be po­ten­tial­ly worse than us, es­pe­cial­ly those mar­kets which re­ly on tourism be­cause tourism will not bounce back all of a sud­den, ” Al­cazar added

Ac­cord­ing to TTBi­zLink Da­ta, 208 man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies ex­port­ed to 69 coun­tries in 2018

T&T’s man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor cur­rent­ly em­ploys ap­prox­i­mate­ly 60,000 peo­ple

In 2018, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Sta­tis­ti­cal Of­fice the food, bev­er­ages and to­bac­co prod­ucts sub-sec­tor grew by 5.6 per cent and the tex­tiles, cloth­ing, leather, wood, pa­per and print­ing sub-sec­tor grew by 1.5 per cent

While the 2018 Re­view of the Econ­o­my record­ed over­all growth in man­u­fac­tur­ing at 7.3 per cent