Government is continuing to be proactive and is doing so through ongoing discussions with partners on ways to mitigate and manage the likely fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was emphasized last night by Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan, as he discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour movement during CBC TV’s The People’s Business.
Speaking of the impact on employment on the island at this time, Minister Jordan said that Government had been veryproactive and was having discussions about the impact of COVID-19 on the country and its economy.
“In those discussions we are having, we include all possible options in terms of responses to mitigate and address impacts of COVID-19 …. We recognized very early that we could have been impacted very negatively. We weren’t sure and we set certain options – if it was going to be mild; if it was going to be moderate, if it was going to be severe; we are now in the process of fine-tuning policy responses to the current situation …. But because of the situation, of the magnitude of the impact, we have put all options on the table and everything is being discussed as we tailor our response that in our view will meet the challenge that we face as a result of COVID-19.”
He noted that the number of applications to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) for unemployment benefits might be closer to about 16,000, up from the previous figure of about 14,000, mentioned by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley during an address to the nation.
And, Mr. Jordan stressed: “If you really want to know the total number of persons who have been impacted, then the number of persons who would have applied for unemployment benefit may not be an accurate number. We know that there is a number of persons who have been impacted from what we call the informal sector. Now that number is not a number that is easy to ascertain and so we can make an assumption that it can or may be as much as 20,000 persons who have been impacted by this pandemic so far.”
Pointing out that tourism was almost at a standstill, with thousands of persons unemployed at the moment, Mr. Jordan stated: “We have kept open essential services and made some adjustments to those over time, but the bulk of the economy would be operating at a very slow pace at the moment and so there is significant dislocation among workers, at this time.”
He also noted that some NIS measures had been put in place, and the National Insurance Board (NIB), which had also been meeting frequently, was giving direction to management and dialoguing with them to expedite the National Insurance Department’s response to the “large and unusual number of applications”.
In response to how soon Government would be able to top up the unemployment benefit scheme, given an expected influx of about 16,000 to 20,000 applicants, Minister Jordan said it was a matter occupying the attention of the NIB.
Stressing that at this point there was no need for a top up, he added: “But we expect that there will be need at some point in time. And, so the National Insurance Board, through its Chair, keeps us apprised and abreast of the situation; and once the top up is needed, it will be brought to our attention and Government will respond accordingly.”