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Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Derrick Kellier, has said that the provision of overseas work for the people of the Caribbean was vital to the economies, societies and quality of life of the citizens.
He pointed out that overseas employment “provides opportunities for social and economic advancement, generates income and is currently fuelling the economies of the region through significant levels of remittances”.
Delivering the keynote address at the Jamaica Central Labour Organization’s (JCLO) annual awards luncheon at the Jurys Washington Hotel, in Washington D.C., on December 8, the Minister said that “within the region, our labour situation is being rationalized through the free movement of certain categories of skilled workers – media workers, sport persons, university graduates, artistes, musicians, supervisory and management staff, teachers and nurses”.
“While the free movement of all workers in the region is still some way down the road, we have to ensure that we secure and expand opportunities for our skilled and unskilled people beyond the shores of the Caribbean,” Mr. Kellier said.
On the matter of the Decent Work Agenda, which is being promoted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Mr. Kellier said it aimed to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain productive work, in conditions of freedom, equality, security and human dignity.
A critical part of the Decent Work Agenda, he emphasized, has to do with the encouragement of successful business opportunities for people. Hence, the Government of Jamaica, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, recently launched the $1 billion National Insurance Fund Credit Facility.
The facility, he said, would assist the micro, small and medium size business sector with low interest loans, through reputable lending agencies. “When you understand that the sector employs more than 50 per cent of the workforce and generates over 40 per cent of GDP, then you understand why it is important that the government takes the initiative,” Mr. Kellier emphasized.
He said that an important component of the National Insurance Fund credit programme is to provide more Jamaicans with social security protection through the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). It is estimated, the Minister said, that some 53 per cent of the Jamaican labour force operated in the informal economy.
As a result, thousands of self employed persons were reaching retirement age without access to adequate health and pension benefits. The Minister stressed that for business persons to access loans under the NIF Facility, they must be registered with the NIS.
The same principle, he said, applied to workers in the overseas employment programme, with registration with the NIS a must. The Minister also added that, “we have to get more of our people in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean to understand the importance of being able to access pension and other social security benefits when they are unable to work or have reached the age of retirement”.
In giving an overview of the JCLO’s work programme, Barbara DaCosta, Chief Liasion Officer, reported that over the past 11 months, 8,783 workers were recruited, representing a 15.73 per cent increase over the similar period last year. This, she said, was the largest number of workers recruited under the JCLO administered programmes since 1991.
Miss DaCosta noted that JCLO dispatched workers to 44 new properties and broke new grounds when it sent 22 workers to the Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Four persons received awards for service to the JCLO, including Deanna Cantu, 37 years; Yvonne Dixon, 34 years; Grace Brown, 25 years; and Ambassador Richard Pierce, 5 years.
Among the special guests was Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Professor Gordon Shirley.