We cannot highlight enough the fact that the success of Jamaica’s tourism sector is underpinned by its dedicated workers. These workers, who form various categories within the sector, are our most prized resource. They have been the ones at the forefront of customer service and have produced an enviable 42% repeat visitor rate for the country.
This is why I remain strongly committed to improving the welfare of the thousands of hotel workers across the island. This is why I have developed a human capital development strategy aimed at building capacity and improving their overall welfare.
Housing Solutions for Tourism Workers
The housing conditions of hotel workers is of particular concern to me. In fact, a recent survey indicated that over 88% of the workers in the sector cannot even access National Housing Trust (NHT) housing solutions. Subsequently, we have searched long and hard for a formula that can provide affordable housing for our workers and we are proud of the policy shift that the Prime Minister has announced with regards to the NHT menu of benefits which will see:
- An increase in Loan Limit
- Reduced Interest Rates on NHT mortgages
- Intergenerational mortgages
- And Increase in Construction Loan Limit for NHT lots
In 2009, the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) along with the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) earmarked, $1 billion, for upgrading housing solutions for tourism workers. Among the things that were done was the acquisition of 250 acres of land by the TEF which was handed over to HAJ towards a Brownfield development and a Greenfield housing project in the Grange Pen area of St. James. This program has now been restarted.
Recently we broke ground for the Resort Squatter Settlements Upgrade Project – Grange Pen, Brownfield, St. James. The HAJ will oversee the infrastructural upgrade for the regularization of 535 households in the Grange Pen community.
In addition the HAJ signed with a Chinese developer, Henen Construction, to build 754 units in the Rhyne Park area at a price point ranging from J$7.9 million to J$18 million for 1-3 bedroom units which will allow the ordinary average worker to afford housing. Ground is to be broken this month for this development. The Greenfield development for Grange Pen is in the tender process and will see an additional 1000 units which will make a total of 1700 units available at the lowest possible price points for tourism workers.
This is the model we will replicate across the tourism belt to be followed by Whitehall in Negril next year.
Our tourism workers deserve to live in clean, orderly, structured and safe communities with appropriate infrastructure. We will go beyond the call of duty to make this a norm across the island.
Tourism Workers’ Pension Scheme
Another critical prong in improving the welfare of our tourism workers is the establishment of the long awaited pension scheme. For too long, too many of our tourism workers have retired with no social safety net.
The Tourism Workers Pension Bill has been tabled and on May 21 will be debated. This brings us one step closer to having the first comprehensive pension plan for all tourism workers. This will make Jamaica a world leader in providing tourism worker social security.
The pension plan is a defined contributory plan supported by legislation and will require mandatory contributions by workers and employers. The plan will cover all workers ages 18-59 years in the tourism sector, whether permanent, contract or self-employed. Benefits will be payable at age 65 years or older.
Initially for the first two years the contribution will be 3% of gross salary to be matched by the employer and 5% thereafter. My Ministry, is providing $1 billion to seed the fund so that immediate benefit can accrue to qualified pensioners who have met the vested period of five years. These Pensioners will receive a minimum pension of J$200,000 per year.
This Pension Plan embraces everyone in the sector, whether he or she be red cap, front desk manager, craft trader, housekeeper, rafts men or any other category of worker in the industry including those who are self-employed. This represents inarguably the biggest human capital development related game changer in the tourism sector in Jamaica’s history.
My Ministry, driven by data and global trends, is finding the tools and programs to re-imagine tourism. This re-imagining has become even more critical given rapid global changes in the industry and beyond. We recognize that if we are to continue our successes and remain top of mind, our tourism workers must be at the forefront of this re-imagining. We are therefore committed to ensuring they are given the necessary tools to not just do well but thrive.