Senate delay

Debate and passage of Tourism Pension Bill now expected next week

Saturday, July 13, 2019

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THE Senate yesterday delayed closing the debate on the Tourism Workers Pension Bill, which is aimed at creating a defined contribution pension scheme for workers in Jamaica's tourism industry.

By the time the Senate meets next week it is likely that some minor adjustments will be made to the Bill. However, members on both sides gave overwhelming support to the basic provisions, as well as contributed to its drafting and now expected implementation by Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Senator Pearnel Charles Jr, who is piloting the Bill through the Senate, thanked “every single individual”, including the Opposition, which has contributed to the success of the Bill so fa.

“It is not supposed to be a scheme that is attached to any one person. This is a scheme for the people of Jamaica,” Senator Charles said.

Government Senator Kavan Gayle, who is president of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), considered the main union in the tourism sector, noted that the Bill was new legislation “that has never been seen before anywhere else”.

He added: “It is a winner for the workers in the tourism industry.”

Senator Gayle said that he has a concern about the movement from private pension schemes to retirement schemes, which rely solely on contributions from the workers. But, he welcomed the fact that the new tourism pension scheme would include provisions for equal contributions from both employers and workers, moving up from the initial three per cent/three per cent to five per cent/five per cent.

Another Government senator, Donald Wehby, noted that statistics from the Financial Services Commission (FSC) showed that only 9.5 per cent of Jamaica's labour force is currently engaged in any private pension arrangement.

“What that is saying is that 90.5 per cent of our labour force is not on a private pension scheme. I am sure my colleagues in the Senate will agree that this is startling, and I raise it as a serious concern,” Senator Wehby said.

He noted that the tourism sector employs approximately 120,000 people directly while generating another 250,000 jobs, indirectly.

“So, we are talking about upwards of nearly 400,000 Jamaican workers who will be impacted by the passing of this Bill,” Wehby pointed out.

He said that the sector could produce another 41,000 jobs by 2022, which would increase the figure to approximately half a million people employed who will be impacted by the legislation.

Opposition Senator Damion Crawford recalled the work that was done in terms of consultations on the proposed Bill during his tenure as the junior minister in the tourism ministry, between 2012 and 2016.

He also raised some of the points which were being supported by the ministry at that time, including the need to recognise the value of the human factor in encouraging visitors to return to Jamaica, an important consideration which he said he did not see captured in the new Bill.

Senator Crawford, at the same time, welcomed this year's $1-billion allocation to the pension fund from the ministry, which he suggested should lead to provisions for a percentage of each year's profits from tourism enhancement being contributed to the pension fund.

“The low level of wages that most hotel workers experience will call for the pension, in and of itself, to be an almost immaterial sum if there is no supplementation from some source,” Senator Crawford cautioned.

Opposition Senator Andre Haughton said that his main concern was how the pension is delivered as a benefit to the workers.

“We have to think carefully about how we compensate the people who work in this industry,” he stated.

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