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Strategic plan or political play behind TDC decision?

MC NISH IR/HR Specialist... Thursday, March 16 2017

When government announced its new plan to market and treat Trinidad and Tobago separately, as different products, my thinking was that this is possibly a better strategic approach to focus on our islands individually. This delivery could result in laser-focused and relevant marketing and market opportunities, given that the islands offer very different and distinct features and atributes.

The strategy announced to do so however, raised more questions than answers, when the Tourism Minister announced the plan to dissolve the Tourism Development Company (TDC) and create two separate entities. The 150 employees will be asked to reapply for jobs in these new entities; this is the part that raised more questions than answers.

Now keep in mind, that in an ongoing entity, the company has a duty to pay laid off workers, severance and other benefits. A dissolving entity may not necessarily have to pay such benefits to employees unless there is something like a successor agreement. These workers can therefore be out of jobs with little or no buffer or support.

I read the claims of the President of the representing Communications Workers’ Union (CWU), that this was a decision made after “startling revelations.” I personally think that the claims reported were a bit far-fetched, that such a huge decision would be purely based on the single item of award of contract at the Maracas Bay Project. Until evidence is provided, I intend to treat that idea as mere speculation and press ahead.

The decision to abruptly but not immediately dissolve TDC as they are sorting out the legal arrangements makes me consider the following:

• As an HR/IR Consultant the first pressing question and concern would be “people” issues. Would government use the same approach as with the TIDCO decision, where the TDC was considered its successor Company and employees were able to their carry over benefits? Would the current TDC staff be allowed to do the same? How would they treat with workers with ten years plus industry skills though they have been on a revolving employment contract?

• Given that no further explanation has been forthcoming about the reason, it begs to question the abruptness of such a decision with deep and far-reaching implications to economic and social consequences. The point was made by the Minister that this was necessary to give the THA autonomy to market its destination. If this is a move to grant the THA the much-desired autonomy, then why not just set up a separate or new entity for Tobago or just simply change the current structure internally to achieve that end?

• An assumption may be that after auditing the company it was revealed that its current business model, and talent needs are obsolete? Was there ever an evaluation to ensure skills match roles and responsibilities in line with industry norms? Were there not occurrences of constant adaptation within the company? Even if the company has become obsolete why not embark on restructuring, as the employees are contracted, giving the company a little more flexibility to reorganise itself.

• This leaves me to wonder if this is the most efficient strategic decision, for tax money to be spent? Even considering whatever point TDC is at in its current stage of its business lifecycle, is dissolution more effective than restructuring? What are the political risks involved? If it appears that the Ministry is appointing its own people without having to pay severance or other benefits without full accountability to the people, there can be a political price to pay.

• What will happen to those “unsuitable” candidates? Will they be given the opportunity to be absolved in other State companies’ vacant and suitable positions, or the public service? Will the Government be responsible for callously changing the variation of our productive work-force, when people are sent home and especially when they cannot receive benefits? To think that they can easily or will find another job in this time is not being realistic as we know our current realities. While there is a flow of people moving around the job market, it may not necessarily be new entrants but industry cycle. It is possible that employees are moving from company to company without many new entrants filling positons.

I now look on intently to see how government treat this situation as this affects 150 families, (not persons), their standard of living and psychological circumstances.

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