SSB Will Provide Benefits To the Suddenly Unemployed - 03/26/20 11:14 AM
The Chairman of the Social Security Board outlined the measures they will take to give relief to those who have lost their jobs:
Dough Singh - Chairman of the Board, Social Security
"We are proposing a statutory instrument to the government and it is in the making, where we will provide an amendment to the regulations act that will set aside that exemption period for anybody who is infected by COVID 19. What does that mean? It means that if you lost your employment and this is for people who had lost their employment as result of COVID 19, meaning the absence of tourist of a result of it, individuals who work in the hotel industry who the hospitality industry or anybody else who are affected and job was compromised as a result of COVID 19. Those individuals lost employment but we will consider the employment continuous of the purposes of any infection under COVID 19. So if 3 weeks after their loss of employment, they should contract the infection, then they will be medically covered as if they were continuously employed. So that should certainly set, give some ease to the tensions being created as a result of this to both the employers and the employees. We still want to encourage the employers to do what they can, some have suggested they continue to employ or pay 8 hours which is the minimum amount per week that you need to pay for someone to consider them to be continuously employed. We want to encourage that too because I think if we have very loyal, very hard working employees that you don't want to lose, in tough times like these if you can afford it, it would be a good gesture to continue to provide some payment to these individuals. In addition to that however, we have to put some provision in place for employers who are struggling at this point in time and we know that they are going to have difficulties meeting the obligation to make their payments for the social security contributions on the 15th of April and 15th of May. The 15th of March has gone by and I'm sure some had difficulties with that. What we're providing is that employers will need to continue to submit the filing as it becomes due but we are going to wave their requirement to make the payment at this point in time. The legislation at SSB under normal circumstances would automatically; not making your payment would attract penalties and interest. We are going to work with the Minister of Finance, the Honourable Prime Minister who is the only person legislatively that can actually waive these, so we're going to request a waiver of interest and penalties that accrue as a result of individuals not making those payments for the next 2 months and then we're going to work on a program to try to have them catch up to those payments as the set of circumstances ease. There is still going to be obligated to file the return just not actually make the payment."
Social Security is also making a 5 million dollar contribution to the national recovery effort.
Hon. Dr. Carla Barnett - Economic Czar
"It's true to say the situation in the economy is catastrophic as is what we describe it as because it is not only the tourism sector, it is the allied sectors, everybody that contributes to tourism and that's a really large sector of the economy that we're talking out. The information that we have suggest that we're talking about upwards of 80% of the employees in the hotel sector that are losing their jobs, that's 80% of about 14 thousand people. All of the tour guides that 100% of about between 2,300 to 2,500 people. We've also had significant job losses at the borders in the free zones as a result of the shutdown. We've had significant impact on the productive sector, the farmers who provide to the hotels and restaurants that serve to tourism. The impact is going to be quite large, there isn't a fixed number, we can tell you right now that it looks to us that if the impact on the tourism sector alone, we're talking about a 45% reduction in cruise arrivals and about the same reduction in overnight tourism arrivals concentrated in this period."
"What that means is that immediately it's the job loss yes, but it's also the revenue loss, it's the revenue loss to government, it's the revenue loss to other institutions that depend on the sector for direct income, we're talking about BTB, we're talking about PACT, we're talking about NICH that draw the majority of their income directly from the tourism sector. So it's a large impact we're talking about, let me talk a little bit about how the relief for employees for people who have lost their jobs, how that is going to work, at this stage it looks like it will be 150 dollars every 2 weeks, it's not a lot of money, we're not seeking, we cannot replace people's incomes but we can help to relieve the stress in terms of meeting basic necessities. It looks like that will be the final number that we hit upon and how will people get access to this? First of all, while we have prioritised tourism, tourism in our economy is broad base because we have what we call the alive sectors that are alive because of tourism so, we include all of that. We're talking about tour operators, hotel and resorts, transportation providers that provide to the tourism sector, we're talking about visitor entertainment destination, art and craft stores, other supplies of the tourism sector and we can add others as we go along."
"The kind of jobs, the kind of employees that we're talking about, we're talking about tour guides, office staff, cleaners, janitors, room attendance, we're talking about kitchen staff, store clerks, even mechanics, people who work on the buses who take the tourists around. Independent operators such as freelance guides, tour guides, vendors, hair braiders. We're talking about taxi operators, so we're trying to cover an account for the people who work as a result of who have lost their work in the tourism sector and the allied sectors because of the COVID 19 pandemic. The social security board will be the paying agent, it won't be paid by a department of government, it will be paid strictly from the social security board, through the funds that will then be sent to social security board for that purpose. How will the forms be available where people can apply? We're going to be whenever the system starts, we're going to be putting that form on covid19.bz website, we're going to be putting it one general government of Belize website, it's going to be available from different places. If people don't have access to the internet, they'll be able to pick up hard copies in social security board offices. They'll be able to leave them in a drop box at social security board office, those drop boxes will be cleared every day and we're going to be processing these things through very quickly. Advise that should be by the end of next week, the latest the end of next week. In another day or so, we should be able to see the forms on the covid19.bz website, people will be able to fill out the form online and they will be able to download a form and fill it out by hand if that's what they need to do and then put it in the drop box same way."
So, that website agains is COVID19.BZ.