The National Insurance Scheme has received 36,482 unemployment claims following the island’s shutdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and about 19,000 people have received their benefits so far.
This disclosure came on Thursday night from Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, as she addressed the media, after a Social Partnership meeting, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Ms. Mottley told the media that the unemployment claims are a staggering amount, in a country that roughly has a workforce of 140,000 persons.
“It probably means that represents … about 26 per cent of the workforce, and that had nothing to do with the underlining unemployment rate of …10 ½ per cent before the crisis really got into its own ….
“We accept that some of that is as a result of the lockdown, as to what percentage we can’t tell you…. But we accept that with some businesses coming back on stream, more and more employees will not need to benefit from unemployment benefit in the long term. They are entitled to up to six months, but some of them may well be back in work within four, six or eight weeks, depending on the nature of their employment,” she said.
The Prime Minister also said that about 19,000 people, or more than half of the people who claimed unemployment benefits, had already received cheques for three or four weeks. She stressed that the employees at the NIS were “working as fast as they can” to complete the others.
However, she noted that as more businesses re-open, the current mission is safe work, for safe people, in a safe country.
She said it was necessary to keep as many people in Barbados employed, so as to ensure that every household could have access to food.
Ms. Mottley told the media that during the Social Partnership meeting, the private sector and labour movement reported that their members were facing challenges, and, in some instances, workers had been asked to take pay cuts, ranging from 10 or 15 per cent, to as high as 50 per cent.
She added that, as she had previously indicated, there was a need for the Social Partnership to discuss forced savings, which would allow for burden sharing.
She continued: “But that is the conversation that we have to have next week …. We have to … cut some expenditure even in spite of the fiscal space that we have gotten. We are in a comfortable position. The IMF is recommending to its Board, in early June, that we be allowed to move from a six per cent primary surplus, to a one per cent …. It means it would give us at least $550 million in elbow room.”
However, she explained that this “elbow room” was needed because the country would lose over $450 million in revenue because of the effects of the local and global shutdown, as a result of the virus.
The Prime Minister noted that the implementation of forced savings would allow Government to spend money on capital projects, for example, so as to get more people working.
“Capital projects are not only construction related projects, but they are also things like the digitalization project …. We accept that while that project was initially designed to be a six-year project, we will probably have to advance and rapidly execute other aspects of it, and we may even have to go beyond the loan to be able to digitize even things like the records in the QEH …. So, we have to repurpose and come up with new estimates that reflect the reality of our situation,” she explained.