The measures announced by Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus might appear to be well intentioned but on analysis none of them provides relief for the growing army of 11,000 unemployed. And none will put food on the table.
What is needed today is a sensible way to invigorate the economy through an aggressive programme to create real employment and an income support system for all workers through a State unemployment insurance system.
While the government is suggesting that it is offering support for retrenched workers it has done just the opposite since taking office.
In fact, the government’s economic policies have brought greater hardship to even those who have jobs.
A caring government would be finding ways to create real jobs not sending home people.
Holding a job fair and spending $600,000 is just PR because if there are no jobs, the job fair will only create more frustration.
In the State sector people have lost jobs, often for no other reason than the new regime didn’t find them acceptable because they were hired by the former administration. It’s a given that political appointments are legitimate targets when an administration changes but too many people who have lost their jobs since September 7, 2015 were well trained and qualified employees who were hired through a legitimate and competitive process.
And providing wellness and counselling services for the unemployed person might be a useful thought but it is nothing even close to a solution.
Seriously, how will such assistance pay bills and buy food? When people are depressed they need some kind of positive reinforcement. But telling a depressed unemployed man that better will come and he must be strong and cease worrying will not feed his hungry children, pay his bills and his mortgage. It won’t stop the debt collectors from banging on the door.
The minister said Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company (TTMF) is making a list of how many retrenched workers have mortgages with the institution and that it might come up with alternative means to pay mortgages. Good, if you have the money.
Here’s the real problem. If you have no income, refinancing a mortgage is not going to help. Where is the money coming from? The harsh reality is that when someone loses a job there is no more money. That’s it. You are flat broke and you can’t even buy food.
Then there is the question of private financial institutions offering assistance. What assistance?
They are in the business of making money.
No matter how they dance around the subject everyone will still have to pay bills – and often with additional interest.
Telling people they can get help from these institutions in these hard times is an attempt to hoodwink poor people who are already reeling under the burden of growing debt.
It’s cruel to offer people false hope.
And it’s pie in the sky to promise that construction workers be “absorbed into programmes run by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development” when the minister knows there is no significant construction activity and most projects are handled by private contractors.
Now is the time to introduce an unemployment insurance system for every employee in the country to protect against periodic job losses and permanent retrenchment.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Progressive countries like Canada have it and it’s really quite simple. Employees and employers contribute to a State-administered fund that is used to support workers at their time of need.
A starting point could be some instant relief for all the workers from that $600,000 job fair that’s nothing more than a show, and a tax on private businesses to start an unemployment insurance scheme.
Perhaps the worst part of the “good news” from the minister is that her colleague, Foreign Minister Denis Moses, has held initial talks on the question of aid to countries in the Caribbean. She can’t be serious.
We are facing a national crisis. Five thousand people have lost jobs since the PNM took office. These people have mounting debt and no sign of relief. They can’t buy food and medicine; they might face foreclosure on their homes.
And this government, with no solution to this national crisis, is running off in the Caribbean asking how it can help there?
What on earth are you trying to prove? The Caribbean is doing just fine and not even asking for your help but you are running around showing off while many of your people are living off crumbs and others can’t even get that.
It’s time for our government to end the show and get serious about solutions to the national crisis it has helped to create.