KINGSTON — Promoting a culture of saving among Jamaicans has been a major focus of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), with special emphasis on the benefits than can be derived by contributors in later years.
Investing as little as $50 weekly can guarantee a secure future for unemployed persons, while employed persons can reap rewarding benefits from a 2.5 per cent deduction from their gross salary, which is contributed to the NIS.
Acting Director of the NIS, Portia Magnus, tells JIS News that since 1966, the NIS, which falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, has been providing a variety of benefits for employed,self employedand voluntary contributors.
"The scheme mainly caters to Jamaicans between the age of 18 to 70 years, and the NIS is committed to securing the future of this target group. Based on the 2007 data received from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), there is an indication that only 32 per cent of the working age population is currently contributing to the scheme," she points out.
Realising the dire need for more persons to contribute to the NIS, Miss Magnus says an aggressive Public Education Campaign is ongoing for the month of November and onwards, as a step to increase the level of contribution from 32 per cent to 85 per cent by 2030.
She points out that the scheme provides retirement, invalidity, special child, orphan, maternity and employment injury benefits; funeral grant, health insurance plan, and widower's/widow's pension.
"Looking at the range of benefits, I see the NIS growing from strength to strength. We have improved in terms of providing additional benefits, but more persons need to start contributing to the scheme," Miss Magnus emphasises.
She informs that the aim of the Ministry is to promote the NIS in an attractive manner, and in doing so, different benefits are made available to meet the needs of the growing population.
Miss Magnus tells JIS News that because "we are in a digital age, efforts are being made to upgrade the current manual system used for NIS purposes, to an electronic system to enable efficiency."
“We are really positioned to grow, taking into consideration the direction that the NIS is moving in,” she says.
The Acting Director notes that currently there are 93,231 NIS beneficiaries,and that there is need for more persons to be covered, as research conducted by Help Age International has revealed that a large percentage of beneficiaries are dependent on the NIS pension, their only source of income.
With this in mind, she says it is crucial for more persons to start investing in the scheme to reap future benefits, so the NIS will therefore be providing information to the target audience to achieve this.
"Over the years we have embarked on several public education programmes on a wide scale, and we are continuing this trend aggressively to promote the Scheme. NIS officers normally visit different organisations, such as schools and businesses, to make presentations to staff members regarding the benefits available, which mainly deal with retirement planning," Miss Magnus explains.
In addition, presentations are made at forums, trade shows and health fairs to promote the NIS. She notes that persons who are aware of NIS view it solely for retirement or as a tax. However, she notes that the scheme is not a tax, but rather is a contribution that benefits even young persons.
"We provide several benefits for youngsters once they are below 18 years old. For example, if one or both parents pass on, we have available both the orphan and special child benefits for the recipients," she says.
Meanwhile, Miss Magnus points out that a research conducted by the NIS revealed that a number of persons lack understanding of what the NIS is, while others are totally unaware.
To address this issue, she says a jingle has been created as a strategy to increase the awareness of the NIS, which is in effect for November.
"This is just an initiative to educate the public about NIS, which is very catchy and will be remembered easily. When persons hear the jingle they will be informed and are likely to act," she says.
Another initiative, the Acting Director notes, is updating the current literature on the NIS, which is in progress. She also points out that the newly created tagline; ‘Always Working for You’ is aimed at promoting the NIS as a suitable savings plan.
She emphasises that the NIS is taking several measures to encourage persons to start investing in the scheme, even by word of mouth.
"Oftentimes persons who have never contributed to the scheme are seeking a benefit, so we seize this as an opportunity to encourage them to start investing," Miss Magnus tells JIS News.
She is appealing to persons to visit the parish offices islandwide to learn more about the NIS, or to contact the Ministry’s Head Office at 876-922-8000-9.
Information on the NIS can also be accessed through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s website at: www.mlss.gov.jm.
By Jeneva Gordon, JIS PRO