The loss of jobs caused by the economic crisis which has battered our economy over the past four years has caused severe hardships for working women and men, families and communities, and has worsened poverty. It has also threatened the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 deadline, weakened the middle class, heightened social cohesion risks and eroded the confidence of decision makers.
Any recovery that is envisaged will not be sustainable unless the jobs created are sustainable, because with 45 million youths entering the global workforce annually, about 300 million new jobs are going to be needed globally by 2015 for any chance of keeping up with the growing labour force.
The Jamaican labour force has been increasing by at least 20,000 persons annually. It is growing ever so close to the 1.5 million mark, which is still way below the working-age population figure of close to two million, suggesting that a very large percentage of the over-14 population is either not seeking work, or engaged in forms of income-earning activities not formally recognised.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that within the framework of a severe global economic crisis, unemployment in Jamaica has grown remarkably over the past four years and the cry for jobs has become deafening.
Jobs for the poor
Commitment to creating jobs must remain one of the most important demands of the society, especially for the poor, and the new People's National Party Government should recognise the significance of this. However, the fact that this situation has been allowed to grow out of proportion within the last two decades should not tempt us to seek to mask the situation by papering the cracks with cheap public-works programmes, especially when these programmes are financed with overseas loans which have to be repaid without any positive effect on public revenue.
We fully support the view that the private sector must be the engine of growth, and that the function of government should be to enable a business climate by seeking to address variables that inhibit or discourage investments at both the macro and micro levels.
We will, therefore, need to re-energise investment promotion to target investors who can create significant job opportunities and establish linkages for other investments which are crucial in ensuring that we can fully exploit the newly created environment.
We believe that, at the same time, a primary and urgent need is for the new Government to increase spending on education, vocational training and certification to ensure that when jobs are created, they do not go to foreigners, but Jamaicans with the necessary skills and certification.
Once the environment is secure and the climate is right, we should be able to more aggressively pursue investments and be able to attract businesses which can provide sustainable jobs, or encourage more of our people to invest in their own talents and skills to earn their own incomes.
Jamaica has no choice but to follow this course, as going back to papering over the cracks with tried and failed remedies from the past is not an option at this time.
Kavan Gayle is president of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.