The effect of the pandemic on domestic violence and productivity

Pandemics do not come properly one at a time, as they should if they were well-behaved.

This is not flu season in the tropics, although the mimic men who need to find something to say are picking up the northern hemisphere statistics and making specious comments straight out of the Toronto Star beginning with: “As we move into the flu season…” no doubt about to give us advice on wearing long woollen underwear now that November is here.

Flu season here is usually tied up with the arrival of people from “foreign” like Christmas and Carnival. But that and public-service truancy are not the only reasons that employment absenteeism rates have risen.

I have a granddaughter who, unable to live any longer with the harassment she experienced on the streets of Port of Spain, left the country for good. This followed the discovery of the decomposing body of a young woman her age in a barrel in a building she walked past every day to buy lunch.

She always wanted, as her goal in life, to get into the field of human rights, and having a master’s degree from Canada, she went to Toronto, where she now lives. She is working for the largest public-service trade union in Canada, heading a department dealing with public pronouncements, lobbying and promulgation of health issues in the workplace. A good career move for someone interested in human rights.

One of those health issues is absenteeism from the workplace and what gives rise to it.

Some years ago, the Pan American Health Organization, realising the extent of an epidemic that had, at that time, cost so many lives, finally identified domestic violence as a serious health issue. It was then, and is now, a health issue that affects the productivity both of those who perpetrate it and those who are its victims.

Like slavery, it decays the mental, moral and physical health of the abuser as well as the abused. Similar to cancer that destroys from within, the people who are perpetrators may appear to be cheerful, even charming to co-workers in the office, masking the extent of their character deterioration until they get home at night, when the toxicity oozes forth like pus being excreted from a boil.

The UN at last recognised the damage it can do to the economy of business as well as the overall economy of a country, measuring it in terms governments seem to understand best. One study gave the overall figure in the US alone at US$4.9 billion per year, 70 per cent in medical costs, 15 per cent in productivity on the job, and 15 per cent due to absenteeism related to domestic violence.

The contributory study done by the McKinsey Global Institute, which deals with employment-related issues, quoted a ratio of 257 female to 224 male overall when it came to resultant mental-health costs. This appears to indicate that the mental-health damage on the perpetrators, who are 90 per cent male, were close to the mental and emotional destruction suffered by the female victims. This was for different reasons, perhaps, such as the hangover effects of drugs and alcohol that encourage violence, if not arising from self-revulsion, shame and remorse, which will be eventually blamed on the victim anyway.

But if, as in TT, 50.9 per cent of the workforce is female – and in some industries this may be higher than 80 per cent – the overall effect on the absenteeism and productivity in some branches of the finance and public-service industries will be significant.

During the lockdown reported domestic violence rose by 40 per cent; I have no figures for the associated absenteeism, yet.

No one seems to have correlated the causal effects on absenteeism in the public service or elsewhere in TT, but it was hardly surprising last week when the combined research reports of the UNDP, the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and Oxfam listed Latin America and the Caribbean as being in the top ten per cent of the world’s worst domestic-violence regions.

We come on top of several lists, not just domestic violence, but also low productivity. which we have been noted for, for years: apparently it takes three times as many men to offload a container in the Port of Spain port compared to the Jamaica port and four times as many as in Costa Rica, for example, and we are noted for alcohol abuse as well.

Don’t blame the PM for keeping bars closed: we are top of the list for alcoholism as well. After two drinks, blood pollution rises and the desire to abuse someone weaker and smaller rises in those so inclined as well.

International agency research reveals that the economic cost of domestic violence to a country is high.

Among the victims, it goes beyond the brain deterioration of the perpetrators and includes their own lack of oxygen, brain damage, the physical bruises and soft-issue damage…Is it surprising that the ability to work is diminished when inside a heart is shedding tears of pain and anguish?

But back to what matters to governments, because anguished families certainly don’t. Governments cannot make economic and social policy without accurate statistics to build on. Our admittedly dysfunctional Central Statistical Office has never kept track of the economic cost to business or to the GDP generally of domestic violence.

On absences from work due to the covid19 shutdowns, they probably will. Although the drop in productivity caused by the rise in violence in the home gets a slap on the wrist from economists, it would be interesting to see what would happen if that, as a cause of pandemic lack of productivity, were counted.

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