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HOPE fades

Interns in youth employment programme threaten to quit because of non-payment of stipends

KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

AT least nine interns in the Housing Opportunity Production Employment (HOPE) programme are growing increasingly anxious that the non-payment of stipends may result in them foregoing the project.

HOPE, the brainchild of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, is a training and apprenticeship programme expected to provide an avenue for the development of fully rounded individuals, through a system of National Service Corps, to become productive members of society.

The programme targets unattached youth between 18 and 24 years old who are not engaged in any meaningful way in the country.

In an e-mail sent to the Jamaica Observer, yesterday, a representative of the group, who asked not to be identified, complained that the interns have been working at various organisations for just over a month but none have been compensated.

In a subsequent telephone interview, the representative explained to the Observer that persons are trained for six weeks before being placed in an organisation to work for four months. During this time, the representative said, they are paid as interns fortnightly.

“We've been working for a month and a week and we haven't received any payment at all. We've been to the office; we've even called the head office trying to get some answers. We were told by employees there that they have not received any payments as yet, either. I asked “What does that have to do with us?”

“We've tried again recently and they still can't give us any answers. They are sending us all over the place. They keep suggesting that we speak to the persons who supervise us in which they still can't give any answer as to why we have not received payment as yet,” the representative said.

According to the representative, this has severely impacted the group's ability to focus on the programme. The representative said this has also forced several interns to quit the programme because it has become difficult to get to and from the respective locations.

“We have to be borrowing to go to work and borrowing with the intention of getting back the money to pay back. We have not gotten it back so persons who we borrow from are putting pressure on us. They keep asking us for the money that they lend us and that is putting a strain on us. If we don't go to work then they'll deduct it from what they originally should give us. The supervisors keep saying to borrow money and come but how do we pay it back?” the representative questioned.

Yesterday, the Observer contacted national coordinator of HOPE Lieutenant Colonel Martin Rickman and was told that several factors have caused the delay in payment.

Rickman explained that the interns are paid through the HEART Trust National Training Agency (HEART Trust/NTA) as they are placed in the industry.

“HEART receives the funding for it and they pay the stipends directly to the individuals. This is dependent on the organisation to which they are placed to monitor their attendance and then submit a time card every fortnight for each person,” Rickman noted.

He said each intern is required to provide banking information in order to receive payments.

“Once the time cards are submitted in an appropriate time we have to work backwards to get the uploads to the banking systems so that the money can be transferred into their accounts at the appropriate day, which is usually a Friday, said Rickman, who noted that there are thousands of persons involved.

“Now the bank account that is mainly used through HEART for the payment of the stipends has been with NCB (National Commercial Bank), mainly. For persons who don't have an NCB account [and] may have another bank account, sometimes when we uploaded the information and the bank indicated that the upload has been done and it has been accepted we realise that there are some persons, because of this issue that NCB has been having [who] still have not gotten their pay,” he stated.

Many of the persons recruited, he said, have borrowed and submitted account numbers from friends. This, he said, prevents them from checking directly to determine whether or not they have received payments.

Because of this, Rickman said it is now mandatory that interns provide proof that the account number to be submitted is in fact assigned to them.

“There has also been the issue of supervisors in these organisations submitting their time cards late and that has created a multitude of issues for us. So what I'm saying here is that I will acknowledge that there are some specific issues with the paying of stipends and I have reached to the highest levels, particularly at NCB, to have this matter resolved and whereas they are still having some of the issues, they have been very accommodating to us to [assist] us,” the army man said.

“But, we can't do anything if we don't know who the persons are that have not been paid. I'm inviting them to e-mail the HOPE programme because it is important to me that every single young person, especially those who are going out and borrowing the money to go to work and so on and they are gaining this experience, to know that we're not just working them out. We are very much interested in their development,” he said.

Persons who have not received payments are being asked to contact hope@opm.gov.jm.

Rickman, at the same time, urged supervisors to report issues as soon as they arise.

More than 12,000 young people have been engaged by the HOPE programme for this financial year.