Let the layoffs begin

The global financial system and the world economy are facing unprecedented challenges, but you wouldn’t know that if you only read Trinidad’s so-called “newspapers.”

There has been an almost complete lack of coverage of the meltdown that started in the US housing market, other than occasional Pollyanna-esque comments from government and the Central Bank that everything is just fine.

This occasional series at The Liming House – The Credit Crisis and the Caribbean – will provide a different perspective, and an analysis of the potential effects of this economic and financial crisis on Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean.

It will also engage in bad-tempered criticism of business and economic reporting from the region.

The Guardian’s front page story headilne on Saturday August 30th: “HCL FIRES 100”

The accompanying story, on page A5, bore the headline: “HCL retrenches 100”

Here’s the story, with my comments in brackets:

Inflation and a slow down in the real estate market are said to be the cause of Lawrence Duprey’s Home Construction Ltd having retrenched at least 100 workers between Wednesday and yesterday. (Are said…by whom? Loathe the lack of sourcing. Did one person say so? What were this person’s credentials, if any? Does he/she work at HCL (i.e a person familiar with the company)? Or is this the conclusion of the reporter, Sandra Chouthi?)

Commenting on the reports, Lisa Ghany, communications manager at HCL, said workers were not fired, but retrenched.

(At least there’s a comment from the company. But what an appalling lack of context. And what reports? So did this story appear elsewhere? And what’s the difference between retrenched and fired? From a company perspective, and in business -speak, a retrenchment is a reduction in the workforce in order to ensure the continued financial viability of said company. In other words, you retrench workers when it no longer makes financial sense to retain their services. All is not well at HCL. And where are the details on inflation? What’s the rate in Trinidad at the moment? Why would rising inflation hurt HCL? Total lack of actual reporting.)

She said more than 100 temporary, casual and permanent workers were retrenched, not 300, and that the “exercises are continuing.”

(From whence comes this 300 reference? Sparta? Context and background, please.)

She said HCL’s operations were being restructured in light of inflation and a slow down in the real estate market.

(Aha, so here’s the source of the boldfaced assertion in the lead of the story, a better version of which would have read: “Lawrence Duprey’s Home Construction Limited cut at least 100 jobs this week due to cost pressures from inflation and a slowdown in the real estate market, a company spokesman said.”)

Ghany said the retrenchment was part of a restructuring exercise as HCL had increased its staff from 500 to 2,500 in five years.

(What a sodding non-sequitur. Questions that should have been answered, or even asked: why does HCL need to restructure? Why had it quintupled its staff over five years? Come on.)

The HCL group has 22 companies.

(This sentence gets its own paragraph. Inexplicably.)

“We have different companies throughout the group that needed to be restructured to operate more efficiently,” Ghany said.

(And the Guardian provides not a jot of additional detail. Analysis? Forget it. I might as well be reading a press release.)

The retrenchment comes one week after Michael Fifi officially retired as chief executive officer of HCL. (Are the two events related?)

Its big project One Woodbrook Place is overbudget and behind schedule.

(What is One Woodbrook Place, for those readers who might not know? Where is it located? What is it? Condos? Office space? Was it a speculative build? (i.e. built on the hope that it would be rented out, but without any guarantee of such?))

Reports reaching the Guardian stated that HCL “fired” over 300 workers between Wednesday and Thursday of this week, with a total of 600 expecting to be sent home.

(Again with the lack of sourcing. Reports from whom? Why did you put “fired” in quotes? Is that what your source(s) said? Or are you obliquely acknowledging that “retrenched” is a more accurate description?)

Neither chief executive officer Hayden Ameerali nor chief operating officer Richard Le Blanc was available yesterday for comment.

(How many times did you try to reach them?)

One source said HCL was “significantly downsizing” with close to 1,000 workers due to be retrenched. Asked if the retrenchment exercise was linked with billion-dollar OWP, which is now 18 months behind schedule, the source said, “The whole thing has to do with One Woodbrook Place. It can make or break HCL.”

(This story is badly organised. And has no analysis in it whatsoever. How could OWP “make or break” HCL? Reputation? Financial stability? Did they bet the house on it?)

The source criticised the “inhumane manner” in which workers were informed of the retrenchment, some of whom have between five and ten years of service with HCL.

The source said workers were individually met with at HCL’s Organisational Centre, Orange Grove, and told they were “going home today.”

The cost of building OWP went from $800 million to $1.2 billion. The original completion date was December 2007.

(The lack of cohesion in this story reeks of poor editing. And alright, finally some numbers. But no indication of projected revenues from the project, so it’s left to the reader to surmise that “slow real estate market” + over-budget project = big headache. Sigh.)

On July 31, HCL announced that Fifi was retiring following a July 16 board meeting. Fifi officially left HCL’s helm of HCL on August 22, the same day he turned 66.

(What’s the retirement age in Trinidad again?)

On the Bank Job and colonial contempt, briefly

Finally watched The Bank Job, the plot of which depends heavily upon the activities of one Michael de Freitas, better known as Michael X – black power activist, pimp, and murderer.

Michael X was born and bred in Trinidad, a fact which the film continually acknowledges. Am thus extremely irritated by the thick Jamaican accent adopted by the actor who portrayed Mr X, and by the similarly alien accents of other supposed Trinidadians in the flick.

Discrepancies like these irk me, but after several years of living in London and having to contend with such ignorance on an epic scale, I have ceased to be surprised.