Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has said the provision of social protection is an important policy issue which requires urgent attention in light of demographic changes and the adverse economic climate.
Speaking at a Planning Institute of Jamaica forum titled 'Reforming Jamaica's Labour Market: Social Protection Through Unemployment Insurance', the prime minister yesterday noted that Jamaicans are living longer and thus there is need to ensure adequate social protection for the most vulnerable.
"This means that they will also have a longer period of retirement. We also have an ageing population. There are also growing global trends including increased income inequality, open unemployment and underemployment," Simpson Miller said.
"They call into sharp focus the need for greater social-protection measures as to mitigate against further social exclusion and the marginalisation of the mass of the population," she added.
Simpson Miller said that notwithstanding the current domestic and international economic conditions, all Jamaicans must pledge to confront the broad unemployment challenges.
"To do otherwise would be to surrender important gains already made, while putting at risk the future of significant portions of our population," the prime minister said.
Poverty is of great concern
Speaking at the same forum, Minister of Labour and Social Security Derrick Kellier raised concerns about the lack of insurance for unemployed and said that the Government will be making every effort to protect the most vulnerable.
"The low coverage of traditional social insurance in Jamaica, coupled with the high rate of unemployment and poverty, is of great concern, there exists no adequate unemployment assistance or insurance to cover workers affected by the affliction of unemployment," said Kellier.
Data published by the Statistical Institute of Jamaican its January 2012 Labour Force Survey indicates that the unemployment rate at 14.1 per cent, compared to 12.9 per cent one year ago.
In the meantime, Danny Roberts, head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, told The Gleaner that every effort must be made to protect workers within the society.
"I'm sure there is a consensus when it comes to the need to provide social-security protection for the most vulnerable in our society," Roberts said.
"If you do a survey, you realise that the most prosperous countries are those that provide social-security provision for workers," he said, adding that a unemployment insurance system would protect workers when they lose employment.
Similarly, Wayne Chen, the president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation, said the matter of unemployment insurance should be "earnestly and rigorously pursued".
"In terms of alleviating the cost for companies and providing some sort of support for workers, this insurance is something that will be of great benefit for workers," Chen told The Gleaner.