Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | February 1, 2009
Home : Lead Stories
Aid for jobless: Labour minister moves to create unemployment fund
Daraine Luton, Staff Reporter

Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller (right) shares a light moment with Pearnel Charles (left), minister of labour and social security, at the Jamaica confederation of Trade unions' fourth annual congress held at the Jamaica conference centre yesterday. Looking on is Clifton Stone, former trade unionist. - Norman Grindley/Acting Photography Editor

LABOUR AND Social Security Minister Pearnel Charles has disclosed plans to set up a social-security net to provide displaced workers with unemployment benefits.

At the same time, Charles' Cabinet colleague, Dwight Nelson, has rapped employers for making workers jobless as the first response to economic problems.

Both ministers were speaking yesterday during the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions' annual congress held at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

Social-security net

"We will be inviting unions and management to the ministry of labour to ... look at a social-security net ... we must discuss it," Charles told the gathering of trade unionists.

Charles' suggestion of a social-security net comes against the background of crippling economic conditions that have forced many local companies to send home workers.

Charles said that out of the dialogue, he intends to come up with a plan on how to provide unemployment benefits.

"When a worker is out of work, he gets nothing. If there is a fund somewhere, he can draw down," Charles said.

The labour minister later said that one of the key reasons for the consultations is to discuss funding for the programme.

"How is it going to be funded? Is it the worker who is going to pay? Is it management, the Government or the private sector who is going to pay? We have to discuss funding because all social security cannot be funded by the taxpayer," Charles noted.

Countries, like the United States ,currently have a social-security net which helps the jobless cushion bad times.

As of Friday, continuing jobless claims in the US rose by 159,000 for that week to a seasonally adjusted US$4.78 million.

Charles believes the unemployment benefit must be treated as an investment: "You get some assistance while you are out of work until you get back to work."

Blaming workers

In his address, Nelson, who is the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, expressed discomfort at the actions of employers to make workers the first casualty in tough financial times.

"Some years ago, when we first began to feel the negative impact of globalisation, and when Jamaican companies sought to address their inefficiencies and inabilities to face competition," recounted Nelson, "the first thing they did was ... to blame the worker and throw the worker out of a job."

Added Nelson, a former trade unionist: "It is déjà vu. As the economic crisis deepens, what we are beginning to see in the Jamaican economy is a lot of companies, rather than creatively addressing ways and means of making themselves better able to face the difficulties, what they are doing, as they did with globalisation, is to make the workers the first casualty".

Meanwhile, Derrick Kellier, the opposition spokesman on labour, said that the current chronic economic conditions should not be an excuse not to pay wages.

Minimum wage

Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller also stood in the defence of the worker and urged minister Charles to beseech Cabinet to increase the minimum wage.

"The Government will not be able to shy away from a minimum-wage increase," she said.

The opposition leader urged Charles to take the matter to Cabinet tomorrow.


Job cuts in selected entities/sectors in 2009

Air Jamaica 600 (including overseas workers)

Media 70

Bauxite/Alumina Partners 600

Food For the Poor 15

Telecommunications (to take place throughout the Caribbean)1,700

Banking 60

Gleaner compilation

Home | Lead Stories | News | Business | Sport | Commentary | Letters | Entertainment | Arts &Leisure | Outlook | In Focus | International | Auto |