Citizens were yesterday given more disheartening news of the termination of 33 workers by Vembev, the former local distributors of beverages like Pepsi and Ocean Spray, as it prepares to end operations and allegations by the Oilfields' Workers Trade Union that Unilever is also about to close its doors and terminate 285 workers.
Agostini’s Ltd managing director Anthony J. Agostini says Vembev's operations have been absorbed into another subsidiary, Caribbean Distribution Partners Trinidad Limited and its two other businesses, Hand Arnold and Vemco. Mr Agostini explained that the beverage industry both here and worldwide had been going through a lot of significant transitions driven by consumer desire for lower-sugar beverage options and also eco-friendly packaging. However, he said Agostini believed Hand Arnold and Vemco had stronger operations in research and development and marketing capabilities and would be in a better position to meet the consumer's needs and allow the company to be more effective. Agostini noted that the restructuring would help them to focus and grow the company’s international proprietary beverage brands.
Yesterday, while Unilever did not confirm the elimination of close to 300 high paying jobs, it did admit to financial difficulty in the midst of what it described as a "weak domestic economy and challenging global environment." The OWTU, however, is insisting the workers will ultimately lose jobs at the company.
Both the fear of and actual sending home of workers shows that while the T&T economy appears to have been stabilised, it has done so at a much lower level than many companies had based their projections on. It also indicates that in order to survive and hopefully prosper, companies are prepared to take hard decisions, including mechanisation, digitisation and other measures to increase their efficiency. In short, the ultimate decision is to make their operations leaner.
With the economy structurally the same for decades and the last major stream of income coming in 2005 with the establishment of Atlantic's Train 4, it is expected that more workers will go home if the Government does not find new revenue streams to stimulate the economy.
The country's high debt to GDP ratio, the lower forever energy prices and the challenge with defending the TT dollar does not leave a lot of room for fiscal stimulus by the Government.
Added to this is the growing consensus that a global recession is looming, as reflected in the inverted yield curve for securities in the US, meaning the challenge for the T&T economy is real.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert has boasted that the economy has turned around but unless the Government is able to increase revenues it is likely there will be more pain.
As with every challenge, there is an opportunity to make changes and we urge the Government to truly work on greater efficiency and reform of the public service.