Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, says the Government is working to address the technical issues preventing tourism workers from being able to access affordable housing.
“It’s not that they (tourism workers) don’t have the jobs, it’s because there are technicalities creating the problems, so we are looking at that and looking at the technical aspects and determining how we can resolve that issue,” Dr. McNeill said.
The Tourism Minister was speaking to JIS News following the Jamaica House press briefing on July 4th where he clarified issues relating to his Sectoral presentation on Tuesday (July 3) at Gordon House.
In his presentation, the Minister noted that the prospects of employment and economic opportunities have lead to the migration of workers to resort areas, but without the corresponding provision of adequate housing.
He pointed out that even though representation has been made on behalf of workers to financing entities, mortgage companies and housing developers, including the National Housing Trust (NHT), to invest in providing such housing stock, surveys show that the majority of tourism workers are not eligible for benefits because of the structure of their earnings.
"When they do the surveys of the workers, they find that the remuneration packages that the workers have do not qualify them for the mortgages, so they’ve said ‘well, we can’t build the houses because you won’t have people’,” he pointed out.
Dr. McNeill said that the Ministry has done its analysis and it has discovered that the workers’ package is divided into two main parts – salary and gratuity. He said that while gratuity is a “sizeable portion of the salary”, it is not accepted by the mortgage and financial institutions as part of the workers’ gross earnings.
"So, we now have to meet with the institutions, the Ministry of Finance and others to determine how (to tackle this issue) and how can we now re-look at the (matter) because at the end of the day, for tourism to really be part of that developmental tool that we want, driving this economy, we really wanted to see hundreds and thousands of hotel workers houses going up all across the south,” Dr. McNeill told JIS News.
He further stressed that it is important to provide housing solutions for the workers to avoid “informal settlers taking over the surrounding areas."
In his Sectoral presentation, Minister McNeill had also pointed out that the Ministry will also explore “ways and means” of working with pension providers to ensure that pension benefits can be made accessible to the average tourism worker, having recognised that outside of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), less than five per cent of workers in the industry are entitled to pension benefits.