By Carlena Knight
Following the announcement that government will be offering permanent employment to trainees on its job programme, Leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Joanne Massiah is querying the plan’s sustainability.
Massiah told the Observer AM show on Tuesday that while she welcomes the move, questions remain over how government will be able to financially sustain and manage the hundreds of trainees within an already overstretched public sector.
Last month, Cabinet announced that “hundreds” of trainees on the government’s “new work experience programme” are to be given permanent positions.
The move applies solely to those in the public sector who have been on the programme for six months or more.
“I am happy for these thousand or so new employees which the government has told us about two weeks ago who are now going to enter the public service on the eve of the elections, who have been on the job programme.
“I am happy that their uncertainty with their employment, given how loose their employment is, is going to be formalised,” Massiah said.
“However, a lot of people, including myself, are asking: the 2022 budget estimates, where in those estimates is there provision to pay the salaries and wages of these additional thousand workers who are going to become part of the public service? What is the average salary of those persons?” she asked.
Massiah suggested that instead of absorbing the trainees into the public sector, conversations could be held with private sector businesses to place the trainees where they can be used effectively.
“Could the government not say, listen, we have a thousand persons, these are the areas that we are going to put them in the private sector, we will incentivise the private sector to enable them to absorb these workers so that government is not the employer of first resort all the time.
“And, as I said, we are happy for them but we are asking ourselves, if you are just going to lock them into the public sector are they going to be productively engaged?
“Are they going to be giving the best of themselves in the service of the public? Are they going to be civil servants? Are they going to be non-established workers – because we have been having a discussion for too many years about having one service – when is that going to happen if these persons are not going to be employed as public servants?” Massiah queried.
It is unclear exactly how many trainees are currently on the job programme, but Minister of Social Transformation Dean Jonas, who was sitting in for Information Minister Melford Nicholas last month at the post-Cabinet press briefing, said it could be as many as 1,000.
The new work experience programme is a government initiative which has been in place for several years and offers participants the opportunity to work in either the public or private sector under specific terms.
The trainees benefit from relevant training and also receive a stipend.
Labour Minister Steadroy Benjamin has been approached for comment.