Government may strengthen the laws to enable it to enforce contributions to the National Insurance Scheme by self-employed persons, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said last night.
Addressing the NIS 50th anniversary awards ceremony at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Stuart pointed to NIS figures that show only 3,500 people who describe themselves as self-employed being registered with the scheme but spoke of an estimated 20, 000 working for themselves in the informal sector.
He said that the estimated 16,500 people not contributing to NIS risk retirement without a pension and face the danger of a steep drop in their standard of living.
He added, “I have heard of far too many cases where self-employed persons have simply not paid their contributions and then in their retirement live way below the standard to which they had become accustomed”.
“I hold the view therefore, given how the stakes are, and for the very protection of the self-employed, that legislative intervention may now be necessary,” he said.
NIS states that since1971 it extended benefits to all contributing self-employed persons between the age of 16 and pensionable age.
It says coverage for the self-employed is “Sickness Benefit, Maternity Benefit, Invalidity Pension or Grant, Contributory Old Age Pension or Grant, Funeral Grant, Survivors’ Pension or Grant”.
“The self-employed are not eligible for employment injury benefit and unemployment benefit and are therefore not required to contribute towards those funds,” the Scheme states.
But the Prime Minister last night described the matter of coverage of the self-employed as ‘a challenge’ which, “needs still further analysis and urgent attention” as for the past years any attempt at persuasion of such persons to join the NIS programme “has produced only modest results”.
“Self-employed persons must be convinced of the need to register and make sure that they can access the benefits when necessary,” he said.
“I am aware that several self-employed persons, and many in the informal sector, operate on a seasonal basis, but this is simply no excuse for non-payment since the threshold for payment is low.”