Fri | Sep 25, 2020

Millennials struggling to survive on low-paying jobs

Published:Sunday | October 20, 2019 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris - Staff Reporter
O’Neil Grant

Thirty-two-year-old Fabian Dixon* would love to have children and own his own house one day, but earning less than $1 million annually has shattered, for him, the prospects of these dreams being realised in his near future.

The library assistant currently shares a rented property with his two siblings in St Catherine and, after 10 years of working, is now able to finance tertiary education. Currently a second-year student at a local university, he is hoping he will be able to take home more than the $60,000 he currently does, but for now, he tries to juggle side jobs in his free time to finance food, utilities, and meet his other needs.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association O’Neil Grant has come across several persons like Dixon in the public sector, many of them with experience and qualifications, but who are taking home $1 million or less annually.

“The public sector generally is a low-wage sector. We are one of the lowest-paid public sectors in the Caribbean, and when we do a purchasing power parity, for instance, normalising our salaries using the exchange rate in US dollars, we recognise that our counterparts in the Caribbean are higher paid than us by thousands of US dollars per month,” he said.

“From what we have seen, the median salary is somewhere around $1 million, and we are talking about those that are professionals, those that are certified or are qualified with at least a first degree,” he lamented.

He agrees with the observation made by Bank of Jamaica Governor Richard Byles, who, two weeks ago, stated that many of the jobs being created currently are low value-added.

“Thank goodness for them because they are jobs, and the people getting them didn’t have any before,” Byles was reported as saying during a media luncheon at the central bank’s headquarters on the Kingston waterfront.

“But they are the same jobs that we produced 20 years ago, whether it is in the hotel sector (or) the BPO (business process outsourcing) business. It’s the same kind of low value-added,” he noted.

Anaemic economic growth

Despite several years of reforms, the Jamaican economy has experienced anaemic economic growth, and while the unemployment rate has dipped, concerns about the quality of the jobs being created have increased.

Grant noted that many university students have been unable to find jobs in their fields of study and referenced the case of a microbiology graduate he knows who reluctantly sought employment at one of the country’s BPOs after failing to secure work in her desired area.

It was noted in the 2018 Economic and Social Survey that females accounted for 62 per cent of persons with vocational certificates and a degree or diploma in Jamaica, which is consistent with the number of females enrolled in and graduating from tertiary education institutions and programmes. Even so, the majority of persons outside the labour force were females aged 25–54 years.

Females, according to the survey, accounted for 59 per cent of the unemployed labour force. Relative to males, 63.9 per cent more females “did not want to work”.


...Grant: Contract job keeping workers out of financial marketplace

The fact that many Jamaican workers are being placed on contract has not been encouraging, O’Neil Grant, president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, finds.

Grant said he believes it places the workers in a position where they have to live precariously and makes it more challenging to own personal assets such as a house and a car.

“When an individual who is on a three-year contract goes to any financial institution to borrow, whether for mortgage or a car, you are being told that you are not secured in your employment and as such we cannot give you a loan that goes beyond what your employment of tenure is, and that makes acquiring things a lot more difficult, because the average loan product is a minimum of five years, but we find that persons are not employed for longer than three years in terms of their contract,” he said.

“It is something that the Government needs to pay attention to, because there is a significant portion of our labour force that is unable to participate in the financial marketplace because of where they are and they tend to go to the micro lenders and loan sharks and pay exorbitant rates for short-term loans, because they just cannot get in through the traditional system,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

With the market being flooded with degree holders, Grant observed that more and more millennial are being forced into contract labour out of desperation.

“Persons under the age of 35 are not seen as valued as persons who are old and more experienced and so their employment situation tends to be more precarious,” he said.

“They are oftentimes lowly paid because of the demand for jobs and the amount of jobs that are out there. They are unable to get the types of jobs that they want, so they take whatever is presented to them,” he said.

Christina Williams, Guild of Students president at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, said she believed that there are many young university graduates who are still able to get well-paying jobs despite their age.

“A lot of the students who would have had a lot of experience during internship, volunteering on projects or summer jobs, or would have been involved in the employment sphere of things before graduating are now finding it easier to transition and are finding it easier to transition into more well-paid jobs,” she said.

“Because we are in such a competitive environment as young people, everyone is getting a degree nowadays, a lot of students are getting first-class honours, students have to set themselves apart by getting some amount of experience before waiting on post tertiary education,” she advised.