A measure of what we have become

Last Friday Stabroek Business published an article based on an interview with a city businessman in which he expressed a number of views about the role which he believed employees play in robberies committed on business places.

It is important to point out that the idea of the interview originated with the businessman and that once he had secured our assurances of anonymity he spoke freely, fully aware that all that he said was likely to be brought to public attention. It was, we believe, his way of bringing to public attention the level of fear and concern that sections of the business community felt over the incidence of armed attacks and of the attendant unwholesome measures to which some businessmen felt they had to resort in order to seek, as far as possible, to guard against those attacks.

There are issues that were raised by the businessman during the interview which we did not publish in our story, like the particularly unorthodox methods of treating with his own employees since his own business was robbed – methods like dismissing employees even on the slightest, unsubstantiated suspicion that they may not be trustworthy; assigning a trusted family member the job of internal security officer which job entailed, solely, watching employees as they went about their daily chores; banning the use of the telephone or visitors during the working day; ‘life style reviews’ that monitored employees’ spending habits and tastes in clothing and jewellery and random visits to some employees at their homes to observe the neighbourhoods in which they lived.

It seems that this particular businessman has developed his own criteria for determining the likelihood that members of his staff might be in league with criminals, criteria that were so rigid, arbitrary, unfair and, in some cases, downright unacceptable that some of these may even attract the attention of the Ministry of Labour.

What we found surprising was, first, that this particular businessman was saying these things to us quite openly and, secondly, that he was insisting that his were not the only or, for that matter, the most rigid “house rules” in place for employees.

It is a measure of what we have become – of the paranoia and suspicion that have arisen out of the targeting of business places by criminals and which have resulted in some business owners treating employees as though they are no more than necessary evils.

One expects – even though the businessman did not say so – that employees are bound to become unhappy and resentful over being scrutinized and monitored every day of their working lives and of being made to feel that they were on a kind of ‘permanent probation’ that could end, suddenly, in inexplicable dismissal. Of course, however resentful the employees might feel about their circumstances, there is no question of them reporting their plights to the Ministry of Labour since, whatever the outcome of the Ministry’s investigations, they are bound to lose their jobs anyway.

The businessman, of course, while making no effort to conceal the fact that his methods were draconian insisted that they were altogether merited in the circumstances. He said that it was either those measures or else, you live on your nerves – so to speak – knowing that employees may include Trojan Horses working from the inside with criminals in pursuits that could result in material losses and even loss of life.

The businessman told us that while he was aware that his methods were unlikely to endear his employees to him he felt that his experiences had compelled him to err on the side of being resented rather than to end up having to regret a less stringent, more flexible policy that invested greater trust in employees most of whom he believed are good, honest people who are simply working at daily needed jobs in order to support themselves and their families. It is a measure of what we have become as a society.

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