PSOJ urges Gov't to focus more on social safety net


PSOJ urges Gov't to focus more on social safety net

Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.comBY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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KEITH Duncan says there is no pressing need in the private sector for another stimulus package and instead the Government should look to give more social assistance to Jamaicans whose lives and livelihoods have been upended by the COVID-19 crisis.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) president, who also co-chairs the Economic Programme Oversight Committee, speaking at his organisation's press conference on Monday, said there has been an uptick in the domestic economy over the past two months, with remittances up about 5.5 per cent and government injection of over $30 billion in fiscal stimulus.

“We have seen some return in activity and we have seen businesses pivot to change their models for the environment that now exists. So I'm not seeing that there is any real [need] on the business side. I think maybe on the social side, in terms of the safety net, that is where we need to pay attention to, because our informal economy has been impacted. We saw the take-up of compassionate grants [and] we see that there is a real need out there. I think that is probably where we need to put a focus,” Duncan said.

President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) Helene Davis Whyte said the Government should look to a longer term programme of assistance for Jamaicans on the fringes of society, who are reeling from loss of income and livelihoods.

She said the grants offered so far have not provided much relief, and the programme should be re-examined.

“It was not at the level that was putting money into people's hands to actually be able to keep the economy turning. And, while it was something that was welcomed because of the problems that workers and small businesses were facing... what we have been seeing is that — because of the way the programme was modelled — it is not a true unemployment programme as such, because it's one flat amount of money that's going into hands, regardless of what people would have been losing by not earning an income during the period; so you find that there are persons who would be close to the $1.5-million tax threshold that that $4,500 would have meant very little to them in terms of keeping daily sustenance going,” she argued.

The JCTU president called attention to the plight of micro-business operators.

“If you've been out of business since March, [and] persons who are basically out there every day, if they stay home they will not be able to eat dinner tonight. Those persons are suffering immensely. We need to do more to be able to do more to address the needs of persons like those, because if we don't, we are not going to be able to tell those persons to quarantine and to stay home,” she said.

Head of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Lloyd Distant, agreed that at this juncture in the crisis, the social safety net is more urgent than support for businesses. However, he said the calls are growing from some segments of the major industries, for further support from Government.

“Whilst the tourism sector would have gotten some support, there are some segments of industries that are saying, 'Look, we need help, we are not in the position to survive this,'” he said.

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