Trade union leaders are calling on the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to ease the process of claiming unemployment benefits for recently retrenched workers.
Barbados TODAY has been unable to reach Minister of Labour Colin Jordan and other high-ranking officials at the NIS and the Employment and Career Counselling Service – the former Employment Bureau – in the face of claims that with Christmas fast approaching, the current process is simply too cumbersome and protracted.
Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers Delcia Burke along with Opposition Senator and leader of the Unity Workers’ Union, Caswell Franklyn, in separate interviews with Barbados TODAY, appealed to the authorities to unblock the bureaucratic bottleneck as hundred of claimants flock to the Government departments.
The benefits process requires the unemployed to make their way NIS headquarters in the Frank Walcott Building on Culloden Road to apply for benefits, after which they must travel to the Warrens-based BECCS to receive a stamp as proof that they are actively seeking work. After that, they are asked to return to the NIS to present the stamp to the department, then join the long list of unemployed workers, waiting at home on their cheques.
“The thing is tedious. I would think that they could look at having the persons go to one place [office] or the other . . . and let them do both activities at the same place. The system is computerized, and it should not be so difficult. This is a long time that we have been saying this,” said NUPW Acting General Secretary Delcia Burke.
She argued that with prospects for government jobs so slim, given the massive layoffs currently taking place under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) plan, the requirement for severed workers to show proof that they are seeking other Government positions is nothing more than a mere formality.
“They still have to do it, if not it will affect their unemployment benefits… but as far as I know, Government is laying off people and the private sector isn’t hiring, so I don’t know that they are any jobs,” she said.
Franklyn raised fears of the social security system’s financial capacity and demanded that Government give the ex-workers greater assurances.
“National Insurance may tell you they have the money, but they may not know how much money they have. That is the problem,” he declared.
The leader of the fledgling trade union said it appeared that in some cases, they were “always finding a way to try to stop people from getting their full benefits”.
This week, the National Insurance Scheme was crowded with hundreds of the newly jobless seeking benefits payouts in time for the Christmas season.
But Senator Franklyn said the current process could serve to frustrate workers’ efforts to get the money they are due.
“If you miss your registration date, you’re not going to get paid. You have to go to two people [offices] to register for unemployment, and as a result, you have some people who are not working, who don’t even have the bus fare, who have to pay two sets of bus fare to get up there.
“But if you don’t have any money to get up there, you don’t have any bus fare, then you can’t get there,” he said.
Franklyn further stressed that while the situation was bad for those owed benefits from the NIS, he again expressed solidarity with workers at the Barbados Water Authority who are currently uncertain about their entitlement to benefits.
Acting Director of the National Insurance Scheme Jennifer Hunte on Wednesday said the department was doing its best to accommodate the workers.
“I would encourage Barbadians to be a bit patient . . . We are doing all in our power to make sure we process the claims as quickly as possible because we understand at this time.”