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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

2/03/2006

Management, Caribbean Style

Working here in the Caribbean sometimes has an "Alice in Wonderland" feel to it.

That feeling returned when I read the recent reports of two SuperPlus employees being beaten by their managers.

Here are the relevant links to the story:

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/1
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/2
http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/3
http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/4

Apparently, two employees were caught stealing liquor from the store in Mandeville. They were taken by a group of managers (and including at least one senior manager) to the home of one of the managers. They were bound up, and brutally beaten with a pickaxe and even bitten by a dog.

A demonstration ensued, during which placards were displayed calling for "justice."

In response, the CEO of SuperPlus, Wayne Chen, (whose younger brother's home is alleged to be the scene of the crime) responded with the following, from the Gleaner:

Yesterday, Wayne Chen, CEO of Super Plus Food Stores, described the alleged beatings as "unfortunate and regrettable". In a statement, he said: "Super Plus Food Stores, as standard policy, treats with utmost importance, the welfare and well-being of its employees. The organisation does not condone, encourage or engage in any form of abuse of its employees."

Mr. Chen promised that Super Plus would cooperate fully with the police to ensure the swift resolution of the matter. He added: "Super Plus Food Stores has a long history of excellent employee/management relations. Depending on the outcome of these investigations, Super Plus Food Stores will do what is necessary to ensure that its substantial record of employee development and welfare is maintained."

As of today, the SuperPlus website: www.superplusfoods.com has no mention of the incident, and nothing has been said publicly of the incident by the CEO (that I can find). This chain is the largest of its kind in Jamaica with almost 40 branches.

There is a lot that can be said about this, including the non-reaction of the company's owners, and how best to respond to crises such as this. The text-book answer given by the CEO was as insensitive and remote as those given by other CEO's in a similar position at Enron, Ford or Arthur Andersen. The lack of further public communication speaks volumes.

One can only imagine the impact on the workers, who in true Jamaican style, have taken to the streets in protest. While this may not ever have happened in Trinidad or Barbados, the response was predictably quick, and angry and featured a call for justice.

There is nothing like a perceived injustice to get Jamaicans riled up, and into the streets with placards, taking industrial action and forming unions. A few years ago, a well-liked Vice President at Cable and Wireless was fired and this was quickly followed by a demonstration and the usual placards. He was not unionized, but the feeling to right an injustice is a strong one.

In the case of SuperPlus, I imagine that the CEO is scrambling to find a suitable way to respond. Unfortunately, in our Caribbean society, inertia can cause us to return to business as usual in an instant, just because it is the path of least resistance. After all, what does produce have to do with an employee beating?

In fact, the prevalence of vigilante justice and mob-beating in Jamaica makes me think that there may be many who are sympathetic to the "managerial beaters" and support what they did. Down the street on Constant Spring Road, I can just make out a spot where a man was killed by a mob after throwing acid on a female worker at the Tax Office one morning. It all happened about 50 yards from the police station up the road, and several of her co-workers apparently were involved.

On the other hand, we have the employees of SuperPlus, who I imagine are traumatized. I don't know what kind of management intervention to make in a case like this, but I am sure that working at SuperPlus will never be the same again.

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