Fri | Jun 5, 2020

SAJ members serving Jamaica despite losses

Published:Tuesday | April 7, 2020 | 12:15 AM

A RECENT survey conducted by the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ) among its members to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the shipping industry, showed that 80 per cent of respondents are experiencing loss of income, some in excess of 50 per cent. The survey also revealed that although the majority of respondents reported loss of income and increased costs in the period under study (from March 26 to March 31, 2020), all are exerting tremendous effort to maintain their services and save the jobs of employees in the interest of their country and community.

COVID-19 IMPACT SURVEY – AN SAJ PROACTIVE INITIATIVE

The survey is a proactive initiative of the SAJ, as a representative organisation of companies that are part of the supply chain of the country, to keep close to its members to understand their challenges and responses. Furthermore, the findings provide information that the SAJ is using to support the efforts of members in ensuring that the country as a whole can rely on the shipping community for goods and services of both a general and critical nature.

Responses to the survey were received from approximately 50 of the SAJ’s 79 ordinary and associate members, specifically shipping agents, agents of non-vessel operating common carriers, freight forwarders, trucking companies, and warehouse operators. Also covered in the survey are small, medium and larger players in the industry.

The findings of the survey showed that so far, one member had to lay off three contract truck drivers. Six other members indicated that they were under severe pressure and holding out from laying off workers but may have to do so, depending on how the situation develops with the pandemic.

INCREASED COSTS AND LOSS OF BUSINESS

More than 75 per cent of SAJ members reported that they are experiencing:

• Increased costs for personal protective equipment, sanitisers, computers, software, along with communications and technical support to facilitate remote working;

• Loss of existing business and potential new customers due to the inability to service contracts; and reduced customer traffic;

• Slower movement of cargo and increased storage charges;

• Loss of productivity from not having teams in one place;

• Potential exposure of staff during public passenger commute;

• Anxiety among staff and low employee morale.

In light of the challenges they are facing, 50 per cent of members are asking the SAJ to lobby the Government, Jamaica Customs and the Port Authority of Jamaica for a stimulus package to the industry to include a waiver of penalties for late payment of taxes; PAYE, GCT, and for Customs charges.

Other suggestions that members made in the survey were for:

• Government assistance to meet the wages of workers affected by the measures implemented to deal with the pandemic; in particular, casual labourers who earn as they work.

• An increase in the tax exemption ceiling of J$1.5m for shipping industry employees.

In their responses, SAJ members also reported increased use of electronic systems, such as the Port Community System, in the normal operation of business on the port and called for increased police surveillance of the port community.

MEASURES IN PLACE

The SAJ recognises that this is an evolving situation and while no guarantees can be given, shipping industry partners are cognisant of the extreme reliance that the country places on them to deliver. Hence, the association commends member companies for putting in place their own strategies to ensure continuity of their business in the face of the threats posed by the virus.

Among the adjustments being made throughout Jamaica’s shipping industry are:

• Providing hand sanitisers and asking all customers to sanitise upon entry and before handing documents to the processing clerk.

• Revising opening hours to reduce exposure and risk.

• Instituting social distancing measures and ensuring that no more than 10 customers are to be present in the processing areas.

• Encouraging customers to utilise electronic payment methods.

• Instituting a work-from-home policy for administrative staff who are engaged in non-essential tasks.

• Staggering the days of work for each employee so that social distancing can be achieved.

The proactive approach of the SAJ and its members reflect their commitment to be of service to Jamaica, while trying to do their part to minimise the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

The SAJ will continue to monitor the situation and provide additional guidance to members as it develops. The association’s board has established a team to give oversight to mitigation and response efforts, and to learn from the effects of the coronavirus on the shipping industry as a means of strengthening collective responses to future threats.

Formed in 1939, the SAJ is registered under the Trade Union Act of Jamaica and is a service provider to the ports, as well as being a member-based organisation of terminal operators, stevedoring contractors and shipping agents, the latter of which are the marketing and logistics representatives of shipping lines in Jamaica.