Opposition warns against jeopardising tourism pension fund

BY KIMONE FRANCIS Observer staff reporter francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, March 20, 2017

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THE Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) yesterday cautioned the Government against dipping into the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), a move it says will put the proposed tourism pension fund in "jeopardy".

Finance Minister Audley Shaw told Parliament during his 2017/18 budget presentation on March 9 that expected surpluses amounting to $19 billion from the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority; the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education Fund, and the TEF will accrue to central government, which will "make appropriate arrangements for budgetary allocations to meet their obligations".

The pension fund; which is projected to provide benefits for 90,000 workers employed in the industry, is to be seeded with $1 billion from the TEF over a five-year period.

The TEF is funded by a fee of US$10 charged to each visitor to the island. Annual earnings average $5 billion.

The pension plan is being designed to initially provide a benefit of a minimum $200,000 annually to each worker who reaches retirement age.

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) has since registered its disapproval of the manner in which the Government was seeking to transfer money dedicated to the tourism sector into the Consolidated Fund.

Yesterday, Opposition spokesman on Tourism Dr Wykeham McNeill expressed concern about the future of the fund being implemented to manage workers’ retirement benefits in light of the minister’s announcement.

"If you remove the Tourism Enhancement Fund, what do you then use to seed this pension scheme over the next four to five years? Even if you have funding for this year, what happens when you go forward?" McNeill asked during a PNP post-budget press conference at the party’s headquarters in St Andrew.

McNeill said discussions with the JHTA have indicated that the association will revisit plans to enter into a pension scheme, especially with the new expenses about to be incurred due to increases in property tax and electricity.

"Government is really about making choices. Your economic position is about making choices, and what is happening is that we are seeing the effects of what to me, was not a good choice, because it is having a negative effect on all the other industries," he said.

In the meantime, Government senator and president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, Kavan Gayle, is calling on the ministers of tourism and finance to assure workers that what is being suggested by McNeill is "unlikely to happen".

"The only concern that we have is that this pension fund for tourism workers has been promised from successive administrations, and we would like it to come on stream, because the hotel workers at the various resorts and hotels have been clamouring for some support in terms of pension. We don’t want any barrier or boundary to create an impact on them not being able to benefit from it coming on stream," Gayle told the Jamaica Observer.

The senator said, while he doesn’t know if Government’s plan will cause any barrier, he is "hoping that nothing will impact on it".




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