Tuesday 2 June, 2020

B'dos facing 36.5 per cent unemployment post-COVID, job creation key

Barbados is battling an almost 40-per cent unemployment rate now.

But with the country set to resume operations at more businesses from next week according to Phase 3 of its reopening plan, fewer people are expected to be on the breadline weekly as the country progresses through its planned Phases.

 

"If we can create the jobs then we can minimise the contraction in the economy and we can ultimately see that we would put ourselves back on a growth trajectory. If we can have a safe country, then people would want to be associated with this country and would want to come here ultimately when we open back up.

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"If we can have safe work for safe people then it means that those persons who can in fact do the work cause their immune system is strong, they are the least vulnerable to COVID, but they need to be able to work in order to support their families and by extension, in particular, those in their families who because of an uncontrollable comorbidity, a lot of fancy words for bad Diabetes, for out of control hypertension, for out of control cancer, asthmatic, that some of those people in the immediacy of the pandemic, and particularly given the jobs that they have, may not be able to carry the burden.

"...We may well have a situation where two-thirds of the population who can work will have to carry it for the other third," said Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

She made the comment as she hoped that through the restrictions, through the country's protocols and "drilling down" that "we are in a position to put as many people back to work week by week by week without compromising the gains that the country has made with respect to where we are with COVID-19."

As a result of the loosening of restrictions further from May 18, Prime Minister Mottley says that since some employees will be returning to their jobs, there will be no need for them to reap unemployment benefits in the long-term. Despite the fact that they're entitled to up to six months, she said that with companies reopening their doors, some employees "may be back at work in four, six or eight weeks."

Out of the approximate 140,000 persons in the Barbadian workforce, 36,482 persons have claimed unemployment benefits to date (May 14) from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). "That is a staggering amount." Mottley says that this is 26 per cent of the workforce and "that had nothing to do with the underlying unemployment rate of 10 per cent, 10.5 per cent before the crisis really got into its own." Of the 26 per cent the PM could not say what figure was a direct result of the lockdown at this time.

Stressing the three targets that have been plotted as the country journeys ahead, she said the aim is for "Safe work for safe people in a safe country; keeping as many people in Barbados in work or getting them back to work as is possible; and ensuring that every household can have access to food in this country."

She says that the burden "of needs" must now be managed and shared.

Barbados is now in a very "difficult position". So there must be some adjustment made by the working population, "not in the form of wage cuts" but she made mention of by way of “fore-savings”. This means that the government should instead be looking to investing in “capital projects” which will increase the working population beyond construction projects.

“Capital projects are not only construction related projects”, says the Prime Minister, “…but there are also things like the digitisation project”. The latter project includes digitising government records. This was facilitated through a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Mottley is hoping that those who previously worked in the government along with those who worked in hotels or elsewhere can assist in this digitisation project. Even though the project was set to be a six-year project, the Prime Minister says that the government will have to begin soon and fast track it. She said that there may even be a need to go beyond the loan to see the records at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital being digitized. She said this ought to be done at this point in time.

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