Barbados’ National Insurance Scheme (NIS) remains a model for other Caribbean territories as it is one of the few offering unemployment benefits.
Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan, emphasized this yesterday as he addressed a virtual church service marking the Scheme’s 54th Anniversary.
Noting the theme, 54 Years of Health, Safety and Protection, aptly defined the NIS’ contribution over the five decades, he explained it was also relevant within the context of the past 15 months and the global public health emergency occasioned by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While managing six funds – National Insurance, Unemployment, Severance, Catastrophe, Sugar Workers’ Provident and the Retraining Account – the NIS continues to provide coverage in times of sickness, maternity, invalidity, disablement, old age, unemployment and offer other benefits such as funeral grants, death benefits and survivors’ grants or pensions,” said Mr. Jordan, who now holds responsibility for social security as the Scheme was just last week brought under the portfolio of his Ministry.
Pointing out that the onset of the pandemic last year saw the rate of unemployment rise sharply due to the negative impact on the economy, he added that in 2020, the NIS received 52,282 unemployment benefit claims from over 34,000 persons, resulting in the payment of $155.5 million. Also, between January and April, this year, 20,260 unemployment benefit claims were received, and payments totaling $16 million were made.
The Minister said this showed the NIS as indeed ‘more than a contribution’. “It was challenging for displaced workers to quickly find jobs, and over the six months in which benefits were paid, the National Insurance Scheme has proven to be an actual lifeline,’’ he added.
Appealing to employers to recognise the responsibility owed to their employees, he urged them to continue to report earnings and pay NIS contributions in a timely manner “so that, in the unfortunate event of redundancy, eligible persons are able to provide for themselves, their families and other dependents”.
Minister Jordan noted that the NIS’ anniversary celebration falls within the 109th International Labour Conference at which Barbados’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Chad Blackman, is serving as a Vice President.
He acknowledged that one of the committees of this conference, the Recurrent Discussion Committee on Social Security, was currently considering an approach to making real the right to social security as a key component of social protection in line with the ILO’s Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work.
He stressed: “This Declaration speaks to a human-centred approach – an approach that recognises that we are addressing the needs of persons, human beings, and that their protection is important. Barbados is participating in the work of this committee.”
The Labour Minister assured Barbadians the NIS team remained committed to serving them efficiently and effectively and to improving business processes in the age of digitilisation.
To this end, he acknowledged that during 2021, the conversion of payment method from cheques to direct deposits would continue, as well as the provision of additional avenues for the electronic receipt of contributions.