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PRESENTATION BY PROFESSOR TREVOR MUNROE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTEGRITY ACTION TO THE ROTARY CLUB OF LIGUANEA PLAINS

PRESENTATION BY PROFESSOR TREVOR MUNROE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTEGRITY ACTION TO THE ROTARY CLUB OF LIGUANEA PLAINS

THURSDAY, MAY 2, 2013  – EDEN GARDENS

 

First of all I want to thank you for your invitation and sincerely apologize for not having been able to be with you on April 11,the date to which we had agreed. I do appreciate the fact that you felt it important enough to set another date for me to share with you rather than to accept a suitable substitute.

More importantly, I want to congratulate you for your choice of subject on which you have asked me to speak “The Importance of High Ethical Standards in the Work Place”.  In the first place you Rotarians, as members of that substantial global movement Rotary International, need very little reminder as to what is meant by ethical standards nor by ethics generally.

Your 34,000 Clubs and 1.2 million members, including members of the Rotary Club of Liguanea Plains share a common mission “To provide service to others, promote integrity and advance world understanding” among other things.  Your four way test includes two questions – Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Words and deeds which answer those two questions in the affirmative uphold ethical standards and, conversely, dishonest words and unfair actions violate ethical standards.

Regrettably, it is increasingly apparent had more leaders in the international community, particularly the CEOs, Auditors and Accountants, in the financial sector telling the  truth about their balance sheets, practicing fair play with their clients, their internal and external stake-holders, and generally upholding ethical standards, neither the international community nor national economies, including our own, would have experienced and continue to experience the economic crisis which caused so many hundreds of thousands to lose their jobs and so many millions, especially of young people, not to be able to find decent work or to suffer loss of employment.

In fact, in the recent World Economic Forum survey, over two thirds of the one hundred and thirty thousand participants surveyed from various countries including France, Germany, the United States, India, Israel, South Africa among others associate the current economic crisis with a crisis of ethics and values.

What we mean by ethics and ethical standards_ applicable in all spheres, including the work-place_ is not rocket science. Each of us, at least from my generation was taught “talk the truth cost it what it will”; from the good book we  also learnt when we were knee high “to do unto others as you would have them do unto you” ; we accepted that each of us has to be our brother’s keeper.

Clearly, the socialization process through which so many of us learnt these standards has been severely fractured and is in urgent need of repair.  That repair has to include conversations such as we are having this evening; the resuscitation of the household, the community, the church, the media and very importantly the formal institutions of training and education as organs for the  revival of ethics.  Hence in all of our professional training and recertification processes – as managers and business people, as lawyers and doctors, as bankers and academics, formal instruction in ethical conduct needs to be strengthened.

Applied to the work place one of the first imperatives must be that our word is our bond.  Consider Jamaica as one big work place.  Consider if our authorities had kept their word in relation to the agreement which we signed with the International Monetary Fund in 2010.

Our authorities committed then to implement a number of agreements, including Public Sector Reform by December 2012; Reform of Tax Incentives by September 2010.  In return the International Monetary Fund and other multi-laterals had committed to Jamaica 2.4 Billion US Dollars over a two year period, representing the largest financial commitment to Jamaica by multi-lateral financial institutions with much of it front-loaded.

Then our word was not our bond_ We did not live up to our commitment and no one can honestly doubt that this contributed to a deepening of our economic crises in so many ways that  are now impacting each and every household in Jamaica – with the devaluation of our currency, the rapid increase in the cost of living and most of all the frustrations and alienation from Jamaica, increasing every day, being felt amongst our young people.

A high ethical standard must mean promises made have to be promises kept.  Both because keeping your word should be a value in itself.  But more so because breaking your word reduces trust confidence with dire consequences.  This administration had better learn this lesson.

I and NIA have been associated with producing the Jamaica Civil Society Coalitions’ Jamaica Governance Scorecard 2012/2013.

To summarize our findings, the Government during this period made 35 promises, 9 have been kept, 11 are still in the works and 15 have been broken, that is over 40 percent.  This is far from good enough. This record has got to be transformed in going forward to the 16 performance reviews scheduled with the IMF over the next 4 years.

To ensure promises made are promises kept on our behalf demands the establishment of a serious ‘ oversight committee’, such as the one co-chaired by Richard Byles and Bryan Wynter. More than that, it is going to require each of us knowing what are these performance indicators , what do each need to do to make sure they are met and, most of all, it  is going to require that each of us help to hold the Authorities to account to fulfill commitments made on our behalf, commitments which if not met shall have the most dire consequencies in deepening our economic crisis.

Towards this objective, each of us , each citizen who tries to uphold ethical standards, and I dare say Rotarians, with your mission to promote integrity, need to hold ourselves,  Government, and our authorities generally, to account.

Moving from the national work place as a whole to specific businesses and work places; how and why should we uphold  ethical standards?  This requires not just making sure our word is our bond but compliance with the laws, regulations and codes of conduct governing these standards at the work-place.

In a word it requires making that owners, managers and employees at all levels make the “right” choice, take the moral option, especially when other alternatives are very attractive and especially when you can “get away with” a less ethical choice.

In this regard, there is here, I suggest, a developing if not a full blown crisis, not only in Jamaica, but elsewhere as well.  In the United States for example, the 2011 National Business Ethics Survey found that 45 percent of employees observed misconduct at the work place and ,believe it or not, this was an improvement on 49 percent which witnessed work place misconduct in 2009.

Very worryingly, 22 percent of employees who reported bad behavior said they experienced some form of retaliation, a 10 percent spike over the prior survey’s result.

In Jamaica we have many good laws, codes and regulations which help to define ethical standards in the work place.  Of course, there is also room for improvement but moreso compliance.Perhaps the most important of these guide-lines are set out in  the Labour Relations Code under the Labour Relations and Disputes Act.

The Code, with near force of law, imposes obligations on employers to develop “good management practices and industrial relations policies which have the confidence of all”.  Amongst the obligations that the employers are required to ensure are “respect for the workers rights to belong to a trade union and for such trade unions to negotiate for improved conditions of workers.”

Amongst the more important personal management practices required by this Code at the work place relate to “security of workers” particularly in respect of redundancies.  Ethical conduct spelled out in the Code rules out overnight, ‘ nicodemus-like’ separation of workers from their employment and demands that “all reasonable steps to avoid redundancies” be taken in consultation with employees and that in consultation, employers should  actively develop contingency plans to ensure that workers do not face undue hardship as well as receive assistance in securing alternative employment.

Evidence suggests that far more needs to be done to uphold this ethical standard.  In 2011, there were 124 industrial disputes related to “dismissals and suspensions”, this jumped to 230 in 2012, the most significant subsector contributing to these disputes was financing, insurance, real estate and business services.

Moreover, at the very minimum, upholding ethical work place standard requires not only observing the Codes but the law.  Last year, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security recorded almost 7000 complaints regarding breaches of core labour legislation, over 50 percent of these relating to the laws governing redundancy and the minimum wage.  Happily this represented an improvement on 2011, where almost eight thousand five hundred complaints were recorded.

But these complaints are far too many, reflecting the fact that either employees are not understanding the law or owners and managers are not in compliance with the legislation.  To the extent that employees feel aggrieved, it does not take rocket science to see that one consequence of this is a poor attitude to work and a further consequence thereby is low levels of productivity.

Low levels of productivity at the work place is perhaps one of the most significant contributors to our sustained economic crises, in which GDP per capita has grown by less than one percent per annum for over 40 years and today is only where it was 40 years ago in 1973.

This could hardly be otherwise, if as the Jamaica Productivity Centre reports, between 1973 and  2007, labour productivity declined at an average annual rate of 1.3 percent and total factor productivity (including other elements such as organization, technology, innovation, etc.) declined by almost two percent per annum.

One central reason therefore for improving ethical standards in the work place is to enhance a more positive work attitude and thereby assist in arresting the decline in labour productivity.

Leadership is critical in ensuring this turnaround.  Leadership at the national, political, private sector and civil society levels but also leadership at the work place.  Already the levels of inequality in income, the gap between the top and the bottom is not only the highest in the Caribbean but in the hemisphere – breeding levels of social envy, resentment and making it more difficult to build the high levels of cooperation required to strengthen social capital, an indisputable element of economic growth.

So at the work place,  leadership carries a special responsibility, to practice the honesty which it so often  preaches,  to avoid “the do as I say but not as I do” approach.  Leadership has to be seen to treat employees at all levels and of both genders with fairness – to avoid, for example, the perception and the reality of high levels of sexual harassment, recently reported particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

Work place leadership,  particularly that on behalf of foreign investors, whom we welcome, must uphold the right of workers to unionization and avoid discrimination and victimization against those who seek to exercise this fundamental right.  Ethical leadership at the work place requires that not only that employees make sacrifices through wage freezes when times are bad, but owners and managers as well and that when circumstances improve, the information is shared and all participate in the fruits of that improvement, not just top management, owners and shareholders.

As is now being stressed, correctly so in my opinion, by all leaders in our society, Jamaica and Jamaicans do have the capacity to pull our country and ourselves out of this deep crisis which now places us at number 90 of 140 odd countries ranked globally in terms of competitiveness – following eight successive years of decline – number 85 of 185 countries ranked internationally in terms of Human Development, after two years of decline.

We are a people of exceptional talent and extraordinary capability.  We can and should rank in the top ten percent as we do when it comes to Freedom of the Press on every positive indicator.  For us to accomplish this transformation, amongst the many things which we have to do, it is critical to practice high ethical standards in the work place.  In fulfilling that imperative, given your mission “To Promote Integrity”, you Rotarians have a fundamental role to play.

We in NIA want to encourage sincerely and look forward in this regard with anticipation to  partnering with you and indeed with Rotarians in the 30 odd clubs across Jamaica to advance this fundamental mission on which so much of our future depends.