Since being elected into office last year, Government has made it a priority to update the laws of the land.
The law has had to be laid down on several state-owned-enterprises (SOEs) and government agencies, too, many of which continue to enforce archaic regulations.
The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) comes readily to mind.
Currently, anyone who has qualified to receive unemployment benefits cannot do so if they leave the island, or if they are imprisoned.
The reasoning behind this enforcement is unclear.
A trip to the NIS’s website explains that if a person who is receiving unemployment benefits leaves the island they will lose their benefits for that period.
The NIS website reads: “Unemployment benefit will not be paid for any time you spend out of the island, during imprisonment nor for any period more than 3 weeks from the time you registered at the E. Humphrey Walcott Building. You must visit there every three weeks to continue receiving your benefit.”
For a person to receive unemployment benefits, the NIS demands that he or she has to have been insured by NIS for at least 52 weeks before becoming unemployed; have at least 20 contributions paid to their account in the three consecutive quarters ending with the quarter before that in which they became unemployed; and have at least seven contributions paid in the quarter before the quarter in which they became unemployed.
Why, then, after satisfying all of those requirements, would someone be penalised for travelling or losing their freedom?
At a time when someone is jobless, why would the NIS attempt to limit that person’s opportunities?
There are several scenarios that could come into play which could result in someone having to travel or indeed end up behind bars.
An unemployed person could have a sick relative living overseas whom he or she would like to visit; they could have already booked a plane or cruise ticket for a vacation prior to losing their job. They can even be travelling to pursue employment opportunities.
At a time when Barbados has passed the Caribbean Community Skilled Nationals Amendment Bill, which allows free movement of skilled CARICOM nationals throughout the region, restrictions should not be placed on where an individual ought to be during the six months he or she is entitled to unemployment benefits, especially when the possibility of finding employment outside of Barbados exists.
It is quite bewildering in any of those circumstances why the NIS would seek to dock benefits just because they left Barbados.
All are presumed innocent until guilty. So why would an individual who has been remanded to prison and is therefore unable to visit the NIS every three weeks as is required lose precious benefits?
If we contribute to social security throughout our working lives, unemployment benefits should not be seen as a luxury but a justly earned and deserved entitlement.
In most developed countries, there are only two requirements which must be met to receive unemployment benefits.
The first is that you are unemployed through no fault of your own. This speaks to instances where workers are laid off, or otherwise lose their jobs in circumstances beyond their control.
The second is simply that you meet that country’s requirements for either time worked or wages earned, which can differ depending on the country you live in.
In some instances, it is also required that you are actively looking for work to receive benefits.
In those countries, travelling does not disqualify one from receiving benefits, nor should it be.
Time to lay down a new, just, law on NIS benefits.