“It should have been a simple matter to decide the areas where the downsizing was to take place and give people ample notice. That did not happen. Instead, some people got dismissal letters on the same day they got sent home, others went on leave and were told they were not to return. Staff was taken from the stadiums and placed at head office to do all the bookings and payments, making it less convenient for clients.
“In essence, the staff was subliminally being told that if we wanted to keep our jobs, we had to do exactly as the management and board want, not as we, professionals in our fields, had been trained to.”
The following Letter to the Editor, which provides details of the gradual destruction of the Sports Company, was submitted to Wired868 by a former SPORTT employee:
The Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago, the action arm of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, was founded in 2004. Since its inception, the company has been mostly known for incidents rather than its successes. Things ranging from the TT$2 million flag—when last did you see it fly by the way?—through a CEO who purchased a million dollar BMW to LifeSport.
There have also been numerous firings (which have led to many lost court cases as well).
But take a walk on the inside, get to know the staff that would have been the one constant throughout all the mêlée; they are educated, qualified professionals who are the real heart of the company. While all the politics and strange decisions happen up above, these are workers who consistently devote their time to and put their hearts into their jobs.
They are the ones who help the communities, put on sports camps, assist the athletes and NSOs and NGBs and physically run the stadiums. They are the professional trainers, the sports officers with professional degrees in sports management, the project coordinators and site technicians, the sports psychologists, facility managers and the skilled labourers and cleaners.
These are the people who do the most work and get the least credit; they are the ones who come to work every day with a Sports Company tee-shirt on and are judged by the public based on things that they had no say in.
The workers at SPORTT are all contract workers; the general or average contract usually spans three years. However, owing to these same political problems, when a contract comes to an end, it usually takes some time for it to be renewed.
In most cases, you are told, “Come to work as per usual and we’ll get the documents to you.” Sometimes, you are put on a month-to-month or a three-month contract with a promise that a longer one is on its way.
In December 2016, then CEO Adam Montserin called a staff meeting and, along with the HR manager at the time, began to explain the difficulties of the company renewing workers’ contracts since the current organizational structure had never been approved by the CPO (Chief Personnel Officer) or the Public Service Commission.
Legally, therefore, they could not award long-term (three-year) contracts. However, approval had already been received to grant some people one-year contracts and all others would be placed on three-month contracts until the matter of contracts was properly sorted out.
Fast forward to June 2017. The same CEO who had made the promises was sent on administrative leave along with other managerial staff pending an audit—the findings of which, by the way, have never been made public. All the security at all the facilities was changed.
The staff were left to wonder what had just happened and what was going to happen next. Some said to themselves, “This too shall pass.” Little did we all know that this was the beginning of a hurricane.
The investigation went on for months. Initially, people were put to act in positions—some of them in positions they were not even qualified for. They reported directly to the board.
A manager who had resigned mere months before came back, acting as CEO. Slowly, new faces surfaced to occupy “new” positions created for them, positions with a slightly different name that seemed similar to the ones previously held by some of those who had been sent on leave.
There was talk of the formation of the Sports Commission. We were again left to wonder what was happening, told nothing by the Board or by the acting management. Changes were taking place all around and people were beginning to get scared.
A few random emails were leaked to staff, highlighting possible conflicts of interest involving certain board members. When other board members raised questions about these possible conflicts, they were soon removed. Then, the hammer dropped.
The people sent on administrative leave were officially let go; those in the recently created positions became what seemed to be the new management team. December approached and so did the end of many contracts.
Then official confirmation came in the form of a letter from the acting CEO saying that the company would be downsizing. Many contracts would not be renewed and those that were would be only on a month-to-month basis.
Now more than ever people began to fear for their jobs; it now seemed to be a dog-eat dog world. Some departments were said to be closing. The Human Resource Department seemed more inhumane than anything. Every week, a memo would go out on some trivial matter, treating the staff like secondary school students. A fingerprint sign in and sign out system was put in place, making it difficult for those in the field to operate.
Soon, the email entitled ‘Exit staff notification’ was sent and the numbers began to dwindle. Those who were lucky enough to find something else would leave; those who did not would hope for the best, unsure what would happen 30 days later.
If you were liked and could provide information on others, you were considered an asset; if information was given on you and your daily performance, you were a liability.
Friendships began to crumble, staff involvement in peer bonding activities dwindled to nothing. People began to keep to themselves in order to keep their jobs. Single mothers and pregnant women were put on the breadline, the same friend who they would travel home with taking their old job.
It should have been a simple matter to decide the areas where the downsizing was to take place and give people ample notice. That did not happen. Instead, some people got dismissal letters on the same day they got sent home, others went on leave and were told they were not to return. Staff was taken from the stadiums and placed at head office to do all the bookings and payments, making it less convenient for clients.
In essence, the staff was subliminally being told that if we wanted to keep our jobs, we had to do exactly as the management and board wants, not as we, professionals in our fields, had been trained to. If we want, the message was, to keep on being on staff, we had to turn in all those who go against the new status quo.
There is no way people can live and function in this way; I think we all would accept it if they say the Commission is going to be formed and that SPORTT is going to be closed down. Give people notice and let them plan so that they can leave with their dignity intact and still enjoying the respect of their professional peers in the already limited local sport field.
It is a sad time for Sports in Trinidad and Tobago and a sad time for SPORTT. The Sports Company is basically a dead entity and the workers who remain are more uncomfortable than anything.
The Sports Development and Performance Unit, which was the department the Sports Company was built around, is basically no more. The facilities are in shambles and continuing to fall apart. The Board and the management seem intent on not meeting with the staff and addressing their concerns.
Even the new minister, I am afraid, seems unwilling to hear employees’ pleas and address their concerns. SPORTT is definitely on its last legs.