Fazal Karim

Former tertiary education minister Fazal Karim has condemned the Government for misleading young people on the number of spaces to be created in the On-The-Job Programme (OJT). He claimed that the 8,000 projection was never attainable and was nothing short of a ruse.

Addressing the Standing Finance Committee last week, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus was unable to state just how many new OJT applicants would be placed, using the $21.4 million supplementary allocations in fiscal 2020.

Karim also criticised Baptiste-Primus for being unable to give the projected number of OJTs to be recruited for Tobago where 259 trainees are currently accessing the programme.

He said, “The Minister of Labour informed the committee that 5,013 OJTs are accessing the programme of which just under 100 trainees were placed in the private sector.”

Karim said that the wage bill for 5,000 OJTs works out to an estimated $27 million per month or $270 million for ten months alone, inclusive of the ten per cent OJT increase effective from December 1, 2019.

He explained, however, that the Government had budgeted $284 million for OJTs at the beginning of the year and there was no mathematical scenario under which 8,000 OJTs could ever be placed on the OJT programme.

Karim also said that the 100 OJTs placed in the private sector was a shocking revelation and was a reflection of the shameful mismanagement of the OJT programme.

He said when the People’s Partnership government demitted office in 2015, private sector placement exceeded 1,000 OJTs and the collapse in the numbers suggested that the private sector had lost confidence in the programme.

“The Minister of Labour informed the Standing Finance Committee that $350,000 was owed to private employers on the OJT programme and that after five years the reimbursement process to private employers had not improved.”

The former minister also said that the Rowley-led government had suppressed OJT placements since 2015 and now in an election year, they were attempting to hoodwink young people in the same unethical manner that the Government was hoping to do by paying teachers a stipend to prepare students for the SEA exam during the July/August period. Karim said, “Our young people are brilliant, principled and not naïve. Our young people cannot be bought with a ten per cent stipend increase. The Government must tell the country what are the plans for sustainable jobs for our young people instead of electioneering gimmicks.”