Labour Minister: OJT is pre-employment programme

The Min­istry of Labour and Small En­ter­prise De­vel­op­ment has ex­tend­ed an as­sur­ance to re­trenched work­ers that they are dili­gent­ly work­ing on a plan to ad­dress the peren­ni­al is­sue in a struc­tured and well-or­ches­trat­ed man­ner.

In­di­cat­ing the re­al­i­ty of these per­sons had prompt­ed staff at the min­istry to en­sure that ro­bust, car­ing and durable mech­a­nisms are put in place, of­fi­cials re­port­ed they are cur­rent­ly purs­ing amend­ments to the Re­trench­ment and Sev­er­ance Ben­e­fits Act Chap­ter 88:13.

In a re­lease, Labour Min­is­ter Jen­nifer Bap­tiste-Primus con­firmed, “Progress on this ini­tia­tive has reached the stage at which Pro­vi­sions for Amend­ment to the Act are cur­rent­ly en­gag­ing the vig­or­ous at­ten­tion of the three so­cial part­ners of NTAC, the Gov­ern­ment, the Labour Sec­tor and the Pri­vate Sec­tor.”

She con­tin­ued, “The in­tent is that greater lev­els of pro­tec­tion will be ac­cord­ed to work­ers than ex­ists un­der the pre­vail­ing pro­vi­sions of the out­dat­ed Act.”

Bap­tiste-Primus high­light­ed Jan­u­ary 2019 CSO fig­ures which claimed the un­em­ploy­ment rate in T&T re­mained be­low five per cent dur­ing the pe­ri­od 2012 to 2016 - drop­ping from five per cent or 32,400 in 2012, to four per cent or 25,300 in 2016.

She said, “This was the year when the cit­i­zen­ry be­gan to face dark hours and treach­er­ous wa­ters with the price of oil plum­met­ing abysmal­ly way be­low fore­cast­ed pre­dic­tions.”

Pro­vid­ing fur­ther sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence, the min­is­ter said Jan­u­ary 2019 CSO fig­ures al­so showed that dur­ing that same pe­ri­od, new en­trants to the job mar­ket ranged be­tween 7,700 in 2012 to 5,900 in 2016.

Claim­ing these trends which were in stark con­trast to the 10,000 year­ly fig­ure as pro­claimed by for­mer Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Fazal Karim last week, Bap­tiste-Primus said, “New en­trants to the job mar­ket were low­est in the heady years of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion: 2013 to 2015, rang­ing be­tween 5,400 in 2013 and 5,300 in 2015.”

Re­it­er­at­ing that the On-the-Job Train­ing Pro­gramme was nev­er in­tend­ed to be an agency for em­ploy­ment of re­trenched work­ers, the min­is­ter stressed, “The Min­istry of Labour and Small En­ter­prise De­vel­op­ment re-em­pha­sis­es that the On-the-Job Train­ing Pro­gramme (OJT) is a pre-em­ploy­ment pro­gramme which of­fers young peo­ple be­tween the ages of 16-35 an op­por­tu­ni­ty for in­tro­duc­tion in­to the world of de­cent work and fo­cus­es their at­ten­tion on in­tel­li­gent ac­qui­si­tion of prac­ti­cal oc­cu­pa­tion­al skills and ex­pe­ri­ence with­in both pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions.”

Pro­vid­ing for the place­ment of trainees for a max­i­mum of 24 months at five clear­ly de­fined qual­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els - cor­re­spond­ing stipends range from $2,750 at the low­est en­try lev­el which is the CXC Craft Lev­el Train­ing to $7,920 in the case of the Post Grad­u­ate De­gree which is the high­est lev­el catered for.

Bap­tiste-Primus added, “The OJT Pro­gramme pro­vides for a steady and un­in­ter­rupt­ed in­take of ap­pli­cants, tak­ing in­to ac­count the con­tin­u­ous re­cruit­ment and ex­it of par­tic­i­pants on a dai­ly ba­sis as suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants en­ter and ex­it the two-year pro­gramme day af­ter day.”

She said, “Any al­le­ga­tion of over­sub­scrip­tion must there­fore be seen as a lack of un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the modus operan­di of the pro­gramme.”

Bap­tiste-Primus urged Karim to en­cour­age the busi­ness sec­tor in his con­stituen­cy to be reg­is­tered as a will­ing cor­po­rate em­ploy­er and part­ner with the OJT Pro­gramme to pro­vide worth­while train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to the young peo­ple of T&T.

Dis­miss­ing con­cerns by Karim re­gard­ing the fi­nan­cial al­lo­ca­tions for the OJT Pro­gramme, Bap­tiste-Primus said up­on as­sum­ing of­fice in 2015, an au­dit re­view of the op­er­a­tions re­vealed a to­tal of 5,049 dis­charged trainees were with­out NIS num­bers; a to­tal of 1,900 em­ploy­ees were as­signed more than one ID num­ber; based on the pay­roll sce­nar­ios a pred­i­ca­tion of pos­si­ble ghost stipend pay­ment was es­tab­lished;1,353 dis­charged trainees were reg­is­tered with­in more than one Re­gion with­in the Pro­gramme; 76 en­try lev­el trainees stipend of $2,500 were paid at the Post Grad­u­ate rates of $7,000+; 802 Trainees were mapped to more than one bank ac­count; and 146 bank ac­counts were aligned to more than one em­ploy­ee.

She said, “These are just a few ex­am­ples of the nu­mer­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties we dis­cov­ered in the op­er­a­tions of this pro­gramme un­der Fazal Karim.”

“In or­der not to dam­age the brand of this Pro­gramme that for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Patrick Man­ning im­ple­ment­ed to as­sist the young peo­ple of this coun­try, the team at the min­istry qui­et­ly re­struc­tured the Pro­gramme and em­barked up­on a ver­i­fi­ca­tion ex­er­cise which sani­tised the list of ac­tive trainees and re­moved the ghost trainees; cleaned up the op­er­a­tions; im­ple­ment­ed a more rig­or­ous check and bal­ance to read­i­ly iden­ti­fy wrong do­ing.”

Claim­ing that 90 per cent of the staff at­tached to the pro­gramme were once OJT trainees them­selves, Bap­tiste-Primus said they are col­lab­o­rat­ing with the In­ter­na­tion­al Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO) to con­duct of a rapid as­sess­ment of the pro­gramme in or­der to im­prove its de­sign and ef­fec­tive­ness.

Reporter: Anna-Lisa Paul

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