The Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development has extended an assurance to retrenched workers that they are diligently working on a plan to address the perennial issue in a structured and well-orchestrated manner.
Indicating the reality of these persons had prompted staff at the ministry to ensure that robust, caring and durable mechanisms are put in place, officials reported they are currently pursing amendments to the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act Chapter 88:13.
In a release, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus confirmed, “Progress on this initiative has reached the stage at which Provisions for Amendment to the Act are currently engaging the vigorous attention of the three social partners of NTAC, the Government, the Labour Sector and the Private Sector.”
She continued, “The intent is that greater levels of protection will be accorded to workers than exists under the prevailing provisions of the outdated Act.”
Baptiste-Primus highlighted January 2019 CSO figures which claimed the unemployment rate in T&T remained below five per cent during the period 2012 to 2016 - dropping from five per cent or 32,400 in 2012, to four per cent or 25,300 in 2016.
She said, “This was the year when the citizenry began to face dark hours and treacherous waters with the price of oil plummeting abysmally way below forecasted predictions.”
Providing further statistical evidence, the minister said January 2019 CSO figures also showed that during that same period, new entrants to the job market ranged between 7,700 in 2012 to 5,900 in 2016.
Claiming these trends which were in stark contrast to the 10,000 yearly figure as proclaimed by former Tertiary Education Minister Fazal Karim last week, Baptiste-Primus said, “New entrants to the job market were lowest in the heady years of the previous administration: 2013 to 2015, ranging between 5,400 in 2013 and 5,300 in 2015.”
Reiterating that the On-the-Job Training Programme was never intended to be an agency for employment of retrenched workers, the minister stressed, “The Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development re-emphasises that the On-the-Job Training Programme (OJT) is a pre-employment programme which offers young people between the ages of 16-35 an opportunity for introduction into the world of decent work and focuses their attention on intelligent acquisition of practical occupational skills and experience within both public and private sector organisations.”
Providing for the placement of trainees for a maximum of 24 months at five clearly defined qualification levels - corresponding stipends range from $2,750 at the lowest entry level which is the CXC Craft Level Training to $7,920 in the case of the Post Graduate Degree which is the highest level catered for.
Baptiste-Primus added, “The OJT Programme provides for a steady and uninterrupted intake of applicants, taking into account the continuous recruitment and exit of participants on a daily basis as successful applicants enter and exit the two-year programme day after day.”
She said, “Any allegation of oversubscription must therefore be seen as a lack of understanding and appreciation of the modus operandi of the programme.”
Baptiste-Primus urged Karim to encourage the business sector in his constituency to be registered as a willing corporate employer and partner with the OJT Programme to provide worthwhile training opportunities to the young people of T&T.
Dismissing concerns by Karim regarding the financial allocations for the OJT Programme, Baptiste-Primus said upon assuming office in 2015, an audit review of the operations revealed a total of 5,049 discharged trainees were without NIS numbers; a total of 1,900 employees were assigned more than one ID number; based on the payroll scenarios a predication of possible ghost stipend payment was established;1,353 discharged trainees were registered within more than one Region within the Programme; 76 entry level trainees stipend of $2,500 were paid at the Post Graduate rates of $7,000+; 802 Trainees were mapped to more than one bank account; and 146 bank accounts were aligned to more than one employee.
She said, “These are just a few examples of the numerous irregularities we discovered in the operations of this programme under Fazal Karim.”
“In order not to damage the brand of this Programme that former Prime Minister Patrick Manning implemented to assist the young people of this country, the team at the ministry quietly restructured the Programme and embarked upon a verification exercise which sanitised the list of active trainees and removed the ghost trainees; cleaned up the operations; implemented a more rigorous check and balance to readily identify wrong doing.”
Claiming that 90 per cent of the staff attached to the programme were once OJT trainees themselves, Baptiste-Primus said they are collaborating with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to conduct of a rapid assessment of the programme in order to improve its design and effectiveness.
Reporter: Anna-Lisa Paul