The Opposition Shadow Minister of Labour and Social Security, Dwight Sutherland, says there are over 800 outstanding severance payments claims “sitting” in the National Insurance Office to be processed.
He made the claim last night during an address to the monthly meeting of the St Peter constituency branch of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
The St George South MP said this situation had arisen even though the 14th Actuarial Review had shown that the Severance Payment Fund had healthy reserves of $152 million in 2011.
Sutherland pointed out that under the Severance Payment Act, after a four-month period, a severed worker was entitled to interest on any monies due.
Drawing the audience’s attention to the plight of the 200 National Conservation Commission (NCC) workers who were severed over a year ago, Sutherland contended that they would be entitled to interest on any monies due to them.
Turning his attention to the Unemployment Fund, Sutherland claimed that with the ever increasing number of workers being thrown on the breadline from both the public and private sectors, this fund was now bankrupt.
He recalled that recently the Government had indicated that it intended to inject $12 million into the fund, but so far only $ 6.5 million had been transferred.
Arguing that Government incompetence had led to the depletion of the funds, Sutherland said: “This is a short term measure taken by the Government. This is a stop-gap measure. All of the indicators were there in respect of this fund.”
“What is going to happen when more workers are retrenched with the merging of the Customs & Excise Department and the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) and the lay-offs at the Barbados Light & Power Co., Ltd? Will the Government inject another $12 million?” he asked.
Referring to the 14th Actuarial Review, Sutherland said that over the three year period, 2009 to 2011, the Unemployment Fund had recorded deficits of $7.7 million in 2009, $16.8 million in 2010 and $17.9 million in 2011.
The Opposition parliamentarian argued that the situation was made worse when $10 million was taken out of the fund to be placed in a retraining programme and the qualifying period for unemployment benefits was extended from 26 to 40 weeks prior to the 2013 general election.
Sutherland argued that funds could have been had with the abandonment of the Constituency Councils Programme and the David Thompson Memorial Football Tournament.
When contacted for a comment on Sutherland’s claim that over 800 outstanding applications for severance payments remained unprocessed, Chairman of the National Insurance Board, Dr Justin Robinson, said: “Applications for severance payments are usually contested situations.”
“There is usually a gap between submission of the claim and disbursement. There is often a legal process and the claims go through the National Insurance Scheme tribunal,” he explained.