The fabrication yard at La Brea, Trinidad and Tobago, is a joint venture between a local company, Welfab Ltd. and Chet Morrison Contractors of the US. It is as well equipped as similar yards in the US and is situated in the midst of the Trinidad and Tobago petroleum fields. Further, with Guyana poised to become a local producer of petroleum the local yard is well placed to attract well-paying business.
However, it has just lost the job to build the bpTT’s Angelin natural gas production platform because of a tight timeline and other competitive issues, says bpTT (British Petroleum, Trinidad and Tobago), who suffered from various people inspired problems in the building of its last platform at this local yard and had to split the task into two – removing part of the job to a US company.
The general conclusion is that the local yard is not globally competitive. In fact the yard has the same technology as other yards. Hence its competitiveness is not on innovative or top of the line technology but on the production culture of its employees and its surrounding community. It is noteworthy that the parliamentary representative of the area rebuked the community for their behaviour during the last contract, claiming that this contributed to the present situation. Yet she was condemned for this response which was viewed as her retaliation for the people’s previous criticism of her.
Further, in this period of bpTT’s decision making there were/are labour conflicts on one of the Trinidad and Tobago production platforms, forcing an ejection of workers and their replacement by others; all of this described by the minister of finance as normal life in Trinidad and Tobago’s industrial environment! Hence, it is worth repeating, global competitiveness is not only knowledge, technology innovation or local skill set. It includes the industrial environment and the work ethic of the workforce.
The recent book by economist Dr Terrence Farrell, ‘We Like It So?’, is timely in that it addresses in general the work ethic of the population. He is particularly concerned about the ‘Ambivalence’ of the workforce. He defines ambivalence as;
“…the ambivalent does not know and understand who he really is. At one time or circumstance he may identify with and adopt a set of values and standards; at another time or circumstance may reject or repudiate them and seek to identify himself with another set.”
The community of La Brea at one time recognised the importance of the fabrication company and hence its need to be very good at what it does, be globally competitive since its prospective clients are global players. Also that it provides income for the community. But at another time was willing to shut down the company in the midst of a major contract since a sub group wanted a ‘wuk’ – totally disregarding the operating and staffing decisions of this global competitor. The community refused to see the contradiction of the two positions and all suffered the consequences- the worker, the community, the company.
In the allied situation of the aggravated industrial conflict on a platform, the minister of finance, one of Farrell’s elite, says that this is our industrial circumstance, not relating this to how this company’s competitiveness is viewed internationally – we like it so!
Farrell tells us: “Ambivalence… may well be a peculiar psychological consequence engendered by living conditions and circumstances of survival in colonial societies marked by institutions of plantation slavery and indentureship…”
In many of my contributions on the diversification of our economy I referred to the historical rigidity of the Trinidad and Tobago private sector to adapt to what is required for the creation, operation of globally competitive export companies. The Innovation Diamond, my model for the national innovation system, can facilitate the creation of such innovative SMEs. However, the upscaling of these into global commercial companies depends also on the work ethic of the population.
Is the experience of La Brea a forerunner of what to expect in our diversification thrust even if we are able to acquire the knowledge and innovate?
Mary K King