JIS News

Since the new administration assumed office last year, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, has been actively attending to the social needs of Jamaican citizens, particularly the under-privileged, through the strengthening of its social intervention programmes, among other activities.
One such, the Programme for Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), is set to benefit from the installation of a new Management Information System (MIS). This follows the signing of a US$522,500 contract in December, by Labour Minister, Pearnel Charles, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Partner, Tony Lewars, to set up the system.
The technology will support the information prerequisites of PATH, through the design and implementation of the required software solution. The system will be able to accept applications, qualify, monitor, and manage beneficiary and family structures, and payments. The new system will provide web-enabled access between authorised users at PATH’s head office in Kingston, and the different parish offices. Additionally, earlier this year, Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, announced increases in the individual PATH benefit, which moves from $530 to $650 per month.
As part of efforts to further strengthen the Social Security schemes for the vulnerable in society, Mr. Charles announced that the Ministry would be reviewing the National Labour Laws. This is necessary to facilitate the enforcement of social protection reforms, and would, thus, be a primary point for consideration at the national tripartite-plus consultations.
The review of these laws will also allow for easier movement of capital and labour, especially in light of the Caribbean Single Market (CSM).
Mr. Charles also revealed that amendments would be made to the Employment Agencies Regulation Act, which governs the activities of employment agencies in Jamaica. Under the Act, an employment agency is any registry or entity in Jamaica, that engages in business pertaining to the employment of persons in any capacity.
The proposed amendments seek to regulate and further provide for the proper administration of employment agencies. The amendments will, among other things, include a decision on the maximum fees that an employment agency can charge.
This charge will be determined and fixed at three levels, based on new workers being placed in new jobs, new workers being placed in old jobs, and old workers being placed in old jobs. The fee for applying for a licence, which is currently $10, and the $50 penalty for breaching the regulations, will also be increased to realistic levels.
Other amendments to the Act, will include the elimination of any hidden fees, to be charged by an agent, to a worker; compulsory registration of all workers recruited by private employment agencies by the Minister before they may seek an H2B visa from the United States Embassy to travel overseas; and workers being certified medically fit, and having no criminal record.
Also, during February, it was announced that amendments were approved for the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) Act, to provide for the payment of arrears on NIS claims for up to three years.
Under the amendments, the timeframe for claiming pension benefits has been changed from 12 months to three years, and the amount of arrears payable, to three years. In addition, the time frame for claiming of Employment Injury Benefit, has been extended from 10 days to six months, while NIS pension grants will now be paid whenever an application is made.
The amendments will be retroactive to April 2001, allowing just over 14,000 NIS contributors and pensioners to benefit. The retroactive payment of pensions and grants resulting from these changes, will amount to approximately $400 million. This expenditure will be met directly from the National Insurance Fund.
Pensioners will receive their payment via cheques through the post offices. The necessary amendments to the NIS Act, are being done by the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.
The Ministry, during the year, also sought to secure jobs for citizens, and as such, in October last year, hundreds of Jamaicans were recruited to work in the construction, hospitality, and the health care service sectors in British Columbia, Canada through the Ministry’s Canadian Overseas Employment Programme.
The group included pipe-fitters, welders, and carpenters, certified practical nurses, and the first batch of window cleaners, who left the island in March. The workers will be paid C$28 an hour as they have been trained and certified.
This was the first time that employees were recruited in the hospitality, health care, and construction sectors. Over the years, Jamaicans have been recruited to work in Ontario, Montreal, Quebec, and New Brunswick on the Overseas Farm Work Programme. Canada will be recruiting some 2,000 practical nurses by the end of 2008.
As part of the recruitment programme, there is a partnership between the Okanagan College in Canada, and the HEART Trust/NTA, to undertake certification of workers, to ensure that they will be ready, to enter directly into the workforce once they arrive in Canada.
Additionally, it was announced that State Minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Andrew Gallimore, will head an initiative to develop a skills bank, that will serve as a registry of skilled and certified workers across the island. This facility, which will be accessible via the Ministry’s website, will assist to readily identify qualified workers to fill openings in the local and overseas job markets. In addition, it will assist individuals who are qualified, and who may have difficulty securing a job on their own, to gain employment.
Through this database, employers, who identify workers via the website, can contact the Permanent Secretary in the Labour Ministry, who will then inform the workers, thereby facilitating fulfilment of the needs of both worker and employer.
In order to strengthen its investigative capacity and propagate adherence to safety standards in the workplace, the Ministry also appointed two additional industrial safety inspectors.
In the meantime, a new Mustard Seed facility for children with severe disabilities and HIV/AIDS, and teen-age mothers, was officially opened and dedicated in January in St. James.
The home, ‘Blessed Assurance’, is located on a five-acre property in the Windsor Lodge area, and will serve communities in north western Jamaica. The facility currently houses and supports some 32 children, and on completion of expansion work, will be able to accommodate 75 children.
Mustard Seed is a non-profit, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), which has been in operation since 1978, and operates a total of 11 homes in Jamaica.
In order to ensure that the nation’s senior citizens and disabled are able to access assistance from anywhere in the island, the Ministry established toll free numbers for both groups.
The numbers, 1 888-SENIORS (1-888-736-4677) and 1 888-ENABLED (1-888-362-2533), were officially launched in August by Mr. Gallimore for seniors and the disabled respectively. The numbers are expected to serve as vehicles through which both groups will have direct access to the necessary services being offered by the Ministry, through its agencies.
Additionally, a comprehensive database will be established to identify all persons with disabilities and all senior citizens across the island.