Labour Ministry Securing Jobs and Improving Training for Workers


The Ministry of Labour and Social Security has worked assiduously over the past 100 days to secure jobs for Jamaicans, as well as to improve the country’s human capital through education and training.
Hundreds of Jamaicans were recruited in October 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, as well as a group of certified practical nurses.
Over the years, Jamaicans have been recruited to work in Ontario, Montreal, Quebec, and New Brunswick on the Overseas Farm Work Programme but this is the first time that employees are being requested for the hospitality, health care and construction sectors. 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 and the HEART/NTA, to ensure the certification of workers so that they will be ready to go directly into the workforce once they arrive in Canada.
In mid-October, foreign nationals working in Jamaica without valid work permits were given a 10-day ultimatum by Labour Minister, Pearnel Charles, to contact the Ministry and have their work status regularized or face deportation.
Minister Charles said that while he had received some100 applications for work permits from persons, who have been working illegally in the country, he was disappointed with the level of response, and as such, the ultimatum was extended for an additional 10 days. This time, he warned employers of overseas nationals to visit the Ministry to regularize the working arrangements of their overseas employees or face fines and penalties.
In a bid to protect Jamaican jobs and return order to the granting process, the Minister said that employers applying for permits, must first advertise job openings locally, and submit a copy of the advertisement along with the application to the Ministry. Even then, he noted that work permits for overseas workers will only be granted “when we are satisfied that the worker is not in Jamaica. and you must advise the Ministry as to who you have taken on to understudy that person”.
An official from the HEART Trust/NTA will be appointed to verify whether the skills sought for the work permit is available in Jamaica. “So as not to hold you up when you apply, the HEART Trust will be at the table to say, ‘we can assure you that there is no such person trained in Jamaica to fill that slot,’ so go-ahead,” the Minister outlined.
The Ministry further undertook an audit to determine among other things, the number of foreign nationals in possession of permits, and the mechanism that was being used to issue permits from 2002 to present. Mr. Charles argued that while 25,000 work permits were issued over the last four and a half years, there is no clear account that proper procedures were followed.
“We don’t know how many people were understudying as required by law; we don’t know if those work permits, the applications were advertised before they were sent here, so we are going to.. take a new approach to work permits,” he stated.
In the meantime, he indicated that the money collected from the issuing of work permits will be used to train Jamaican workers in the job category that the permit was issued for. “We have taken a decision ..that the money achieved from work permits should be used to train workers in the categories that we are giving the work permit in… if they pay a few thousand dollars for work permit for a chef because we didn’t have (one), we’re going to use that money to train a Jamaican chef,” the Minister said.
The money earned from the issuing of work permits, will also go towards setting up a remedial reading unit to assist labourers, who are unable to read, Mr. Charles said.
In the bid to readily identify labour for the local and overseas markets, the Minister announced that State Minister, 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. He explained that the data bank, which will be accessible through the Ministry’s website, will enable local and overseas-based employers to readily find workers, and also assist qualified workers to find employment.
Through this database, employers, who identify workers via the website, can contact the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, who will then inform the workers, and thus facilitate the needs of both worker and employer.
In a move to strengthen its investigative capacity and propagate adherence to safety standards in the workplace, the Ministry appointed two additional industrial safety inspectors. “We have strengthened our inspection section of the Ministry of Labour as far as health and safety is concerned, not only on construction sites but all working areas of Jamaica,” Mr. Charles informed.
On social welfare, he announced that amendments have been approved for the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) Act to provide for the payment of arrears on NIS claims for up to three years.
The Minister, who was speaking in the House of Representatives on December 18, said that under the amendments, the time frame 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. Also, NIS pension grants will now be paid whenever a grant is made.
Mr. Charles said 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. “Current NIS pensioners eligible for this payment of arrears need not apply as our system is so designed to identify them,” he added.
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 and the payment of arrears will begin in February 2008.
The Programme for Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), in November, sought to improve its cheque payment system, by utilizing pressure-sealed cheques.
Acting Project Director, Jacqueline Foster, said this method was cost effective and less labour intensive. “Right now, for us to do payments, we work with a large team of persons working consistently two weeks overtime. The pressure-sealed cheques make it easier, because we run it on the computer then through the laser printer, and then we pressure seal it,” Mrs. Foster said.
“We send it out in the same method as our security bags to the post office. Cheques can be printed in 20 minutes; this method is really much more efficient,” she added.
In December, Minister Charles and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, partner, Tony Lewars signed a US$522,500 contract with for the installation of a new Management Information System for PATH.
Mr. Charles explained that the technology will support the information needs of PATH, through the design and implementation of the required software solution. “The system will be able to accept applications, qualify, monitor and manage beneficiaries, family structures and payments”. He added that the new system will provide web-enabled access between authorized users at the headquarters in Kingston and the different parish offices.

JIS Social