Last weekend, while conducting field research at different locations for a survey in Tobago, I met several Guyanese (more Africans than Indians) who told me they are living a comfortable life. They are gainfully employed performing essential services on the island much to the satisfaction of employers. They work in several sectors including in construction and security and as cashiers. Employers love them for their work ethic (hard working and dedicated) and reliability in showing up to work, unlike the natives. They are also doing jobs that many will not stoop to do. Many of the tasks they perform do not attract born Tobagonians because of the low wages, harsh working conditions and long hours. And they are underpaid.
It is a major challenge for businesses to find workers in both Trinidad and in Tobago. The state has been competing with the private sector in arranging shift work for political expediency. And the private sector cannot attract low skilled workers unless they offer much higher wages than the state. But the private sector cannot afford higher salaries which will drive them out of business because they will have to raise prices to match higher costs per unit of production. So the private sector relies on cheaper imported labour.
Employers in Tobago told me they have to import labour even in basic services as security in order to meet demand, because they cannot get enough locals to fill vacancies. Businessmen in Trinidad also told me they face essentially the same problems and even when they raise salaries, they still cannot get workers. Nobody wants to work hard or long hours and everyone wants to get high salaries. Even in the far eastern rural part of Tobago, a businesswoman with a supermarket said she cannot get people to work and as such she hires foreigners. (Incidentally, Guyanese wine and rum are very popular in Tobago and the wine is sold in quantity, especially among the junkies in all parts of the island.) So in Tobago, one can find Guyanese, Jamaicans and other islanders gainfully employed. There are even immigrants from Africa working on the island. And the employers are pleased with Guyanese workers as indeed with the others) except for some whose hands are quicker than their eyes (if you know what I mean).
The Guyanese I met said they visited their homeland almost every year. Only a few would be visiting their homeland for the present holiday as most indicated they have to work during the entire season. As they said, “It is work before pleasure”; “money before sport” – words I don’t hear when I visit Guyana.
On a separate subject, similar to Guyana, the island (particularly in the tourist areas) was well decorated for the holiday festival festooned with colourful lights and other Christmas paraphernalia for the season’s ambience. Homes, shopping centres, streets, hotels, resorts, restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses were nicely decorated with bunting, etc, similar to that in Guyana.