Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) vice president Ryan Walters is challenging Government to provide the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) intake figures to support the claim that unemployment is at an all-time low.
Walters was speaking at a panel discussion at Parkinson Memorial Secondary Sunday night organised by the St Michael South East branch on the topic: Unmasking The Truth About the Economy What Does A No Tax Budget Mean To You.
There, he explained to party faithfuls that if the unemployment numbers given were accepted as accurate, it means that 92 per cent of the eligible population was on the job.
“If unemployment is 7.2 per cent it means that a lot of people in Barbados are working. It actually means that you have 92 per cent of 131,000 people working . . . You have a lot of employment . . . So where is the National Insurance Scheme with all of this employment? Are the numbers flowing into the National Insurance representative of a workforce with an unemployment rate of 7.2 per cent?,” he asked.
The former candidate said that Government’s plan to put $146 million into NIS was a further indication that not only were the jobless figures wrong, but the move also showed another one of Government’s missteps.
“The Government pledged to put about $146 million into National Insurance over a few periods. And again, I am in business, and in business we have to manage what resources we have. We can’t always borrow. We have to manage what we have … When the Government made that announcement that they were going to put approximately $150 million in the fund, and I think they started to do that, it tells me that they are on the wrong track and they don’t really know how they should pump money in or recapitalise the National Insurance fund,” he stated.
Explaining how the NIS contributions work, Walters said Government should have found a ‘creative way’ to inject the $150 million into the economy.
“The National Insurance earns money by people working. Around 11 per cent comes out from you while 12 plus per cent comes out from the employer. So for every dollar earned 23.75 per cent or so goes to the National Insurance. So tell me…why would you not then put that $150 million in a creative way, into job creation? Because if you support employment, the 23.75 per cent goes straight to NIS but what else happens? Welfare is eased, less people will depend on the Welfare Department.
He added: “People have to pay light bill, buy groceries and all those have VAT. And what happens then is that you have money now that you can go and support a small business, you can purchase, you consume… If you put the money into consumption, you get the recapitalisation of the National Insurance Fund… You also get all of the other benefits in the economy that employment and economic activity promotes and all that redounds to the benefit of the coffers of the Government.”
The business executive said given recent job losses, Government’s unemployment numbers, when next released, should show an increase.
“There are specific indicators that say that if the unemployment rate has moved from approximately 10 per cent on average to 7.2 per cent that we should be flourishing in other areas in our economy. So we await the numbers and if the numbers are correct I would anticipate that the next report from the Barbados Statistical Service should reflect an unemployment rate of at least 9.2 per cent because 2,000 workers from the ash programme were sent home, 123 employees of the Arawak Cement Plant, the Ministry of Health sent home 274 workers and I understand that about 240 school monitors might go home very soon,” Walters said.
The DLP officer told the audience that not enough attention was paid to the category of underemployed workers in Barbados. He lamented that there was a ‘significant’ number of people who earn less than $500 per week because of short hours.
“There is something called underemployment, and you hear the term, people working for less than 40 hours a week. How many people you think in Barbados based on the statistical data are underemployed?
“The data says that at quarter four 2022, four thousand eight hundred persons, almost 4 per cent of the work force. It is significant. So you have at least 4,100 persons who are working for less than $500 per week because of short hours. You have a situation where there is around 3,000 people working for less than 29 hours per week,” he said.
Walters called on Government to tackle the issue where the employer can arbitrarily cut the employees working hours.
“So this underemployment pool needs to be addressed. So when we talk about minimum wage, and comrade Verla [De Peiza] keeps making this point, we could put minimum wage as high as we want but once an employer has the ability to put the hours as low as they want you are back at square one. So if you want to affect the economic activity in this country the Government needs to do something about this dilemma,” the DLP member said. (BT)