The road has been paved for the Territory to soon have unemployment benefits for residents who for one reason or another are unable to secure a job.
Unemployment benefits or unemployment insurance is a benefit that is offered in many countries and since the COVID lockdowns, it was a feature that was called for in this Territory. The calls were made to the Social Security for the Board to consider offering such a buffer. However, Social Security explained that this was beyond their control as there were legislative requirements.
This situation was put to Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie by the media weeks ago and at the time the Premier explained that he was having a conversation with the Social Security Board on the matter.
The Premier announced during a debate in the House of Assembly on 2 July that progress has been made in this area and that a way has been found to ensure that there will be unemployment benefits available in the future.
In explaining how the situation became sorted Hon. Fahie said, “Social Security never had any unemployment benefit. When I negotiated with them to grant themselves $10Million so that they can start with the unemployment benefit and then bring the legislation. Let’s bring it to pass it through the House so we have an unemployment fund so that when COVID 19 or any other pandemic or hurricane comes, people paying into the fund will be okay The Social Security told us that it was there to be done for years and nobody would jump on it.”
The Premier also noted that a suggestion has been made as to how contributions could be made to the unemployment benefit fund without raising the contributions the public must make. However, he said the decision on contributions would be informed by an actuary look at the situation.
In early April following calls from the community for unemployment benefit from the SSB the management of the Social Security Board explained that its hands are tied at this time. This disclosure was made by Chairman of the SSB, Ian Smith, Director of SSB Antoinette Skelton, and Deputy Director Jeanette Scatliffe-Boynes during an interview on JTV.
According to Skelton, the law that outlines the perimeter of the SSB does not provide for such a benefit. “The Social Security Board is a creature of law and the legislation says exactly what the Social Security can pay, namely sickness, maternity, old age, employment injuries, survivors, funeral grant and that is what the legislation says that we can do,” she explained.
The Director however noted that there are other means by which the Board can assist in this difficult time. “In addition to that there is some room in our budget for social donation but there is no provision in the law for unemployment benefits. I am not saying that it is not something that we cannot look at in the future.”
In further noting the unfortunate position Chairman Smith pointed out that the Board tried to get in front of the matter over the years but was unable to do and now the need is very evident. “The issue of unemployment has been raised with successive administrations and we have studies that were done in terms of what is needed to be put in place for us to do unemployment insurance. The powers that be at various times have chosen not to pursue it and it was looked at as an additional cost on the populace but now we are seeing the importance of having that safety net for the Territory.”
Smith mentioned that the Board is trying to find a better solution. “Myself and the investment manager Mr. Fraser are actually engaged with the government and actually had a discussion with the government about three weeks ago in terms of short-term as well as long-term needs and goals and the different initiatives that Social Security can implement.”
The SSB Chairman also said that this discussion also included a revisit of the unemployment study that was previously done. “We have been proactive and on the frontline engaging with the government. They are the ones who would be responsible for implementing the legislation. Similarly, we did this after hurricane Irma, when a lot of persons were asking about unemployment benefits at that time being done behind the scenes,” he said.