In the litany of capital projects listed and private investments detailed in this Budget Speech, we cannot lose sight of the fact that they all represent excellent direct and indirect employment opportunities for Vincentians. Budget 2020 places job creation front and centre among the Government’s multifaceted plans and priorities.
In creating jobs today, and laying the foundation for high-quality jobs in the coming years, Budget 2020 accelerates economic and social transformation by placing decent work within reach of thousands of Vincentians. Further, by increasing wages and salaries and improving conditions of employment, the Government continues to position itself as a model employer and natural ally of labour in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; indeed, we are a Labour government!
The latest data from the National Insurance Services show that the total number of active employees rose by 3% between 2018 and 2019, to 41,512. This reflects an increase of 11,451 active employees since the year 2000 – a 37% increase. The three per cent year-over-year increase in employees was driven mainly by six per cent growth in the construction and public administration sectors, and a five per cent rise in manufacturing jobs.
This year, in addition to the 106 posts created in the central government, Budget 2020 points to an immediate spike in construction and agriculture employment, with rapid growth on the horizon in the hospitality sector. The construction of announced public and private sector hotels – Royal Mills, The View, Black Sands, Marriott, Myah’s Luxury Suites, and Holiday Inn Express – will employ over 600 workers in 2020.
The rehabilitation of the resort at Buccament Bay, tentatively expected to begin by mid-year, will employ hundreds more. Recently-commenced works under the Government’s Regional Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project will provide an additional 350 construction jobs. Other major growth drivers in the construction sector include the construction of new schools and community centres, the retrofitting of the former ET Joshua terminal building, and the rollout of the PAVE, cargo Port and modern Parliament projects.
Beyond construction, and the jobs that typically accompany projected economic growth, the Clear Harbor Call Centre plans to employ over 300 young Vincentians by year-end.
The Rainforest Seafood facility, scheduled to open in September, will create 50 direct jobs, and sustain scores of fisherfolk. As the medicinal cannabis industry begins production in 2020, the licenced farmers’ cooperatives, local, regional and international companies will undoubtedly ramp up employment of skilled cultivators and processors. Job growth in the retail sector will be led by the opening of the shopping and entertainment plaza in Arnos Vale, and planned expansions of existing retailers. Similarly, surveys of local manufacturers suggest that many plan incremental expansions in 2020.
The Government also remains committed to seeking and creating employment opportunities for Vincentians around the world. As will be explained throughout this Budget debate, scores of Vincentian nurses are about to begin work in the United Kingdom, joining hundreds of their countrymen and women who serve in the British armed forces. Employment of Vincentians on cruise ships continues to be the source of the second highest aggregate number of jobs for our nationals after the state sector of the central government and public enterprises.
The Ministry of Labour has positioned Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as the leading OECS provider of employees to the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, while also creating opportunities for security and construction personnel across the region. We remain resolute in our stout defence and advocacy for our local farmers and traffickers who sell Vincentian agricultural products to neighbouring countries.
Small businesses, microenterprises, entrepreneurs and self-employed Vincentians can find ample support for their ambitions in Budget 2020. So too can individuals seeking internships, training, or higher education. If you are a small business seeking financing, the Eastern Caribbean Partial Credit Guarantee Corporation can help.
If you are a young entrepreneur, the $2.4 million programme for Promoting Youth Microenterprises (PRYME) can provide you with a cash grant. If you are a farmer or fisher, $1 million in soft loans are available under the Farmers’ Support Revolving Fund.
If your business involves technology, CARCIP grants are on offer. If you seek vocational training or certification, the Ministry of Education, the Zero Hunger Trust Fund, the Skills for Youth Employment (SKYE) and Youth and Adult Training (YATE) programmes stand ready to assist. If you seek to make yourself more marketable through tertiary education, the Government is offering more scholarships and assistance than ever before. If you seek internships or practical job experience, over 700 positions in the SET and YES programmes are on offer this year.
In 2020, the Government kept its 2019 pledge to increase public sector salaries by a further two per cent. Inclusive of a retroactive one per cent increase from July 2018, and a 1.5% raise in January 2019, this year’s two per cent salary hike means that public sector workers start 2020 with a salary 4.5% over the 2018 baseline – not including the usual increments, which, in the aggregate, amount to another two per cent on the salaries of public servants.
2020 marks the third consecutive year that the Government has raised salaries, or lowered taxes, or both. Further, this year, there is a 25% of increase in salaries for a range of non-unionised minor-salaried workers, including part-time workers such as cleaners and janitors. No part-time worker will receive less than $400 monthly. As such, all such workers will earn wages above the minimum hourly rate for casual workers.
Domestic workers, who are overwhelmingly women, are particularly vulnerable and often subject to humiliating working conditions and economic marginalisation. A review is being done of their condition through the Ministry of Labour with the aim of ensuring practical correctives. Meanwhile, this Government urges employers of domestic workers to treat their employees better, cease the unwarranted abuse of these household workers, and make sure that they are registered and paid up at the NIS.
Within the parameters of our fiscal realities and those of our recently published Fiscal Responsibility Framework, we will continue to seek opportunities to improve the conditions of workers. The examples of this commitment are numerous: Today, 237 Government officers are off on study leave. Budget 2020 provides resources to operationalize our recent Occupational Safety and Health Act. Similarly, Budget 2020 allocates resources to the enhancement and retrofitting of office space for a number of departments, increasing the comfort and safety of employees.
This is a Labour Government! Much more remains to be done but we are doing more and more!
Cumulatively, there are unprecedented opportunities available to spur job creation and improve work conditions. We are under no illusions about our continuing serious challenges with unemployment, underemployment and informal sector employment. We will continue to work hard to overcome these challenges. However, the data show that, despite difficulties, it has never been a better time to be a Vincentian worker. Budget 2020 is a manifestation of our continued commitment to improve job prospects for all.