JIS News

Minister of Labour and Social Security, Horace Dalley, yesterday (March 14) announced an overall increase of 66.66 per cent in national insurance benefits, which will become effective on April 3.
The increase is expected to cost the government some $10 billion over the 2006/07 to 2009/10 fiscal years.Minister Dalley, who made the announcement in the House of Representatives, said that the levels of increases approved by Cabinet signaled “the clearest commitment by the government to improve the financial circumstances” of the country’s pensioners.
Under the new provision, old age, invalidity, and widow/widower pensions will move from $900 weekly to $1,500, while for the three quarters rate, the sum will be increased from $675 per week to $1,125. The half rate will go up by $300 from $450.
Also, the orphan and special child allowances will move from $1,575 weekly to $2,625 and the dependent spouse allowance will increase from $300 to $500 weekly. Meanwhile, sugar worker’s pension will increase from $450 weekly to $750 and dependent spouse allowance will increase from $300 to $500 weekly.
The special anniversary pension, which is paid to persons born in 1906 and before, who were too old to contribute to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) when it was introduced, will be increased from $450 weekly, to $750. Maternity allowance, which is payable for eight weeks to eligible domestic workers, will be increased from $2,400 to $2,800. Minister Dalley appealed to all employers of household helpers to ensure that their employees were registered under this scheme.
Employment injury benefit and disablement pension, which varies from a minimum of $100 per week to a maximum of $1,740, have been increased to a minimum of $150 to $2,015 per week. This benefit, Mr. Dalley noted, was linked to the degree of disability as determined by the NIS Medical Board. The employment injury death benefit remains at $150,000.
Turning to the wage-related component of pension benefits, which is based on total NIS contributions, Mr. Dalley informed that no adjustment had been made to the current amount, which is $700. The wage-related portion of pension benefits represents six per cent for every $13 contributed, and is only paid to old age, invalidity and widow/widower pensioners.
As it relates to funeral grants, this will be increased from $30,000 to $40,000, while old age, invalidity and widow/widower grants will increase from $8,100 to $20,000. The orphan and special child grant will increase from $14,625 to $30,000.
Mr. Dalley said that some 87,000 pensioners stood to benefit from these increases in the 2006/07 financial year alone. He urged all persons of working age to contribute to the NIS.
“This includes the employed, self-employed and even the unemployed, who previously contributed, can continue to participate in this scheme as voluntary contributors,” he stated, adding, “many persons are concerned about immediate consumption needs and do not plan adequately for retirement, which they see as a distant eventuality. This attitude needs to change, especially with increasing life expectancy”.
The Social Security Minister also reminded employers of their obligation to workers in ensuring that the NIS, which they have deducted from the salaries of the workers, must be remitted annually to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
The National Insurance Fund now stands at $42.5 billion and is expected to grow by 40 per cent over the next four years to a projected $60 billion by the 2009/10 fiscal year, Mr. Dalley informed.
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for West Rural St. Andrew, Andrew Holness, called for the procedures and practices of the Ministry and the relevant agencies to be re-examined to ensure that pensioners received their benefits in the right amounts and on a timely basis.
He noted that this was one of the primary complaints of pensioners. Other Opposition Members said that while the effort and the percentage increase was commendable, the amount in dollar terms, did not relate favourably to the cost of living.