Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
TOURISM MINISTER Dr Wykeham McNeill on Tuesday said the Government was seeking to put systems in place to allow more workers in the tourism sector to access housing benefits.
At the same time, McNeill said the state would also be seeking to ensure workers qualify for pension benefits.
"Despite the tremendous success and appeal of our tourism sector, many of our workers continue to leave for job opportunities overseas," McNeill said during his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives.
The minister noted that the long-term goal of workers are home ownership and a decent pension, but bemoaned that many tourism workers may not be able to fulfil such dreams.
"We recognise that with all that was going on in the tourism sector, the hotels being built, we went and met with the NHT (National Housing Trust) and the other entities about getting houses built for hotel workers and we found something very interesting. They would go and look at the areas and say, 'yes, we can build it', they would go and do a survey of the workers, and they came back and said most of the workers did not qualify for a mortgage," McNeill said.
He told the House that the workers' inability to qualify for housing benefits from the NHT is directly related to the fact that remuneration packages comprise of a salary and a gratuity.
"If we are going to develop our country properly, if we are going to provide housing for our workers, we are going to have to address the issue about how they are going to qualify for housing," McNeill said.
During her contribution to the Budget Debate last month, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced workers in the hotel sector would qualify for NHT houses at a reduced rate.
Simpson Miller said, effective on September 1, hotel workers who earn $10,000 per week or less, and who have applied for an NHT mortgage during the next three years, will receive a one per cent reduction below the normal rate.
In the meantime, McNeill said the Government is moving to deal with the issue of pensions. He said outside of NIS, fewer than five per cent of the workers in the industry are entitled to pension benefits.
"This is an area that we will have to look at seriously. We will be having discussions with pension providers and others to determine how we can look at the medium- and long-term solutions and, in so doing, how we can make these benefits more accessible to the average tourism worker," McNeill said.