Despite indications that economic growth in the United States this year will remain weak, Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon Pearnel Charles, believes it will be enough for a recovery in the overseas employment programme.
"Any growth in the U.S. economy would be good news for us," Mr. Charles told JIS News.
The programme has been hard hit by the downturn in the US economy over the past two years, resulting in a decline in farm work and hospitality employment. But, the Minister believes that the prospects for 2011 are "extremely encouraging".
"Already we are witnessing an increase in employment opportunities in the hospitality programme (which employs hotel workers),” he said, explaining that many of the traditional employers are experiencing an upturn in economic activities, and are recalling workers left out over the past two seasons.
He explained that, in the US, new employers are showing interest in participating in the programme. Last year, for example, a new employer in California engaged 300 workers in the citrus industry, an area Jamaica had been trying to exploit for years. In Canada, there are strong indications of a rebirth in the tobacco industry, with more than 160 workers recalled and processed for dispatch.
Mr. Charles says he welcomes new employers and that, once the situation normalizes, his ministry's focus will have to be on finding new areas and new employers, as the traditional employers are not willing to take on new workers, but insist on recalling former employees.
"People hear that we are targeting thousands of jobs and they believe that these are thousands of new jobs but, in over ninety percent of the cases, the employers want to recall their old workers when they resume operations. So, we will have to seek to expand, to get new employers who are willing to employ new people," he explained.
The Ministry says that its target for this year is so send no less that 12,000 plus workers to both the United States and Canada, basically balanced with 6,000 plus persons going to each country. This would return the numbers to the pre-recession level, which was about the same 12,000.
Mr. Charles said that he could not overemphasize the importance to the Jamaican economy of remittances from these workers, which in 2009 was approximately US$2.1 billion, dropping from US$2.3 billion the previous year.
The first batch of 177 farm workers left Jamaica on January 5, for 23 farms in Toronto, Canada. They will be employed for eights months in areas of greenhouse farming, tree planting and fruit picking.
The next batch will be leaving in February, and that will be a group of over a 100 persons for farms and hotels in Canada. Over 50 persons will be leaving for the US later this month on the hotel/hospitality program.
By: Balford Henry