THE Senate yesterday cleared the final hurdle in terms of legislation to introduce a pension scheme for both employed and self-employed workers in the tourism sector.
The regulations, which are needed to guide implementation of the much-anticipated Tourism Workers’ Pension Scheme Act, will provide pension benefits for thousands of workers.
The regulations were passed in the House of Representatives last week Tuesday, in keeping the Government’s efforts, led by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, to create a social security network within the sector. Opposition spokesman Dr Wykeham McNeill supported the passage of the legislation in the House, on behalf of his side.
Despite the spread of COVID-19, Bartlett has been able to push the legislation through both Houses of Parliament early enough to grab the attention of his Cabinet colleagues and the industry, as his ministry is already laying the foundation for the recovery of the sector.
But, while welcoming the effort to finally sign off on a Bill that has straddled more than one political administration, Opposition senators Damion Crawford, Lambert Brown and Wensworth Skeffrey criticised the Government going ahead with the Act at this time, when it is still unclear how destructive the pandemic will be to the local economy.
Senator Skeffery questioned several aspects of the Bill, including the fact that the membership forms require that applicants state whether they are related to any “politically exposed persons”, and suggested that passage of the Bill be delayed to allow for amendments.
Senator Brown, who raised that point, insisted that, in going forward with its passage at this time, the Government should also consider reimagining the whole tourism infrastructure.
“The reality is that we have to pause a little and reimagine what the tourism sector will be like post-COVID-19, and how soon it will come back. That’s something I am urging us to do,” Brown said.
Senator Crawford also questioned whether there is any evidence that the high level of competitiveness that existed in the industry prior to COVID-19 will remain after the pandemic.
“If we are assuming with this Bill that the workers will be able to get in by January 2021, it is an unlikely assumption. If they even know if there will still be a tourism worker by 2021 is an unlikely assumption,” he insisted.
Another Opposition senator, Dr Andre Haughton, felt that the Government was placing too much emphasis on the role of the tourism industry in inducing growth, and stoutly defended his call for a cashless society.
Senator Haughton urged the Government members to table a motion to minimise cash transactions, and promote smartphone technology to reduce the need for cash transactions and reduce the need for customers of financial institutions crowding their branches.
However, Government Senator Donald Wehby and Senator Kavan Gayle gave strong support to Senator Matthew Samuda, who piloted the regulations through the Senate.
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