The island’s largest public sector trade union is questioning the wisdom in making it difficult for people who lose their jobs to receive unemployment benefits.
Responding to a comment made Tuesday by Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo that unemployed individuals who refuse job placements and counselling from the National Employment Bureau (NEB) should have their unemployment benefits discontinued, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) said Government must recognize that any money paid in unemployment benefits would have been contributed by the very people who were seeking support, while they were still employed.
NUPW President Akanni McDowall said while people should be encouraged to find work, a hardline approach was not the way to go.
“It may not necessarily be the right decision to make it difficult for workers to benefit from funds they would have contributed over the years. I think what we would have to do is to try and encourage unemployed persons to do what is right and secure a job on their own initiative. I do not think that Government should try to adopt a hard stance against the workers,” McDowall said.
Byer-Suckoo had told a stakeholders’ seminar at Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre that the law barred anyone who refused counselling from having their forms stamped, thus denying them benefits.
She also said no one was entitled to 26 weeks’ unemployment benefits, and that people were abusing the system by refusing opportunities for interviews because their unemployment benefits had ‘not yet run out, they still have several weeks to go’.
However, General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union (UWU) Caswell Franklyn reacted with disdain, saying the minister did not have a clue what was going on.
“The minister just opens her mouth and talk for the sake of talking. She does not understand what is really happening in Barbados. The maximum unemployment benefit a retrenched worker can get from the National Insurance Scheme is $2,400 a month. In such a case if the NEB locates a job for $1,200 a month the worker would hardly take up such a placement. Surely the worker would hardly give up $2,400 a month for 26 weeks, for a job that pays $1,200 a month,” Franklyn said.
In her address to the stakeholders, Byer-Suckoo had said the cry of some individuals for the social and development agency to be relocated to a more central area had not fallen on deaf ears.
In April 2012, the NEB was moved to the Warrens Office Complex after the old NIS building on Fairchild Street, The City became unsuitable.
However, unemployed individuals who have to conduct business with the Government agency have been complaining about having to travel between the NIS on Culloden Road in Collymore Rock and the NEB offices in Warrens
While the minister said Government was in search of a “suitable and affordable” venue at which to relocate the unit, Franklyn charged Byer-Suckoo had no one to blame but herself.
He said both divisions were to have been housed at the E Humphrey Walcott building at the corner of Culloden Road and Collymore Rock, St Michael, but Byer-Suckoo had separated them, creating further financial hardship for retrenched workers.
“You now have unemployed people who do not have the money to pay bus fares from Lower Collymore Rock to Warrens to have their claims fully processed . . . . Byer-Suckoo does not understand the hardship she has created by separating the NEB personnel and the NIS personnel.
“This Government has gone and restored the ten per cent that they had deducted from their salaries and people who have to live without a salary they want to deny them access to funds they had contributed over the years,” Franklyn contended.