By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
FREE National Movement Deputy Leader Peter Turnquest yesterday criticised the Department of Statistics’ recent Labour Force and Household Income Survey, calling it a “mirage” that is “no way realistically reflective of what is going on with the country’s economy”.
That survey showed that the country’s national unemployment rate fell by 3.7 per cent, from 15.7 per cent last November to 12 per cent in May. The report provides information on the labour force as it existed during the reference period of April 27 to May 3, 2015.
The report took into account preparatory hiring in connection with the inaugural Junkanoo Carnival, temporary employment for homecoming festivals and hiring by the now stalled Baha Mar resort, which was anticipating an opening in early spring of this year.
Mr Turnquest said the report “selectively highlighted” a timeframe in which the economy of the country benefitted from temporary employment opportunities.
He warned that while the Department of Statistics’ report appeared to show some positives, the public must bear in mind its root causes, saying the inclusion of the “very loosely attached temporary carnival workers and Baha Mar casual labour” misrepresents the true numbers of the country’s unemployment rate.
Speaking directly to the report’s claim that the inaugural Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival celebrations “contributed” to a 3.7 per cent decrease of the country’s unemployment rate, Mr Turnquest insisted that the numbers presented by the report did not reflect the “real economics of the Bahamas.”
“What Bahamians are looking for are sustainable job opportunities that last beyond a month,” he said when contacted by The Tribune. “This survey focused on a period in which persons were obviously caught up in the carnival festivities. Where are the sustainable jobs?”
Mr Turnquest said both the timing of the survey and the manner in which it was carried out skewed its results. He explained that persons surveyed were asked questions structured in way to garner a particular response.
Mr Turnquest added that if the same survey were conducted again today, with the same respondents, the figures would give a different result.
“Two to three weeks before carnival if you walked up to a Junkanoo person involved in the process and asked if they were gainfully employed, they would have said “yes.” Now that the dust has settled, if you were to ask those same persons now they would tell you they aren’t gainfully employed,” said Mr Turnquest.
“We must not be misled by manufactured work, paid for by the tax payers and being passed off as real employment. Real employment for most sensible Bahamians relates to a full time engagement, with the benefits of such employment according to the country’s labour laws. Anything else is purely a distortion of the real employment circumstances in the country and for individual families.
“Most of the individuals engaged are and were not working a full 40 hours a week and many took home much less than an acceptable weekly wage. It will be interesting to determine if these ‘workers’ were entitled to and were granted vacation allowance or pay in lieu thereof, contribution to National Insurance and other benefits normally associated with working individuals.”
During a press conference on Friday, Department of Statistics Director Kelsie Dorsett said that the employment opportunities provided by the “preparatory work” needed for Junkanoo Carnival had a positive impact on the latest unemployment figures. The same is likely true for the IAAF World Relays in May, as well as people hired in the lead up to Baha Mar’s anticipated spring grand opening, she said.
However, Ms Dorsett said it is “likely” that an increase in unemployment would be reflected in the next Labour Force and Household Income Survey in November.
Junkanoo Carnival was held on April 17 and 18 in Grand Bahama and from May 7 to 9 in New Providence.
The survey went on to say that the country’s three major islands - New Providence, Grand Bahama and Abaco - all experienced decreases in their respective unemployment levels.
In New Providence, the unemployment rate was 12 per cent down from 16 per cent and in Grand Bahama the rate fell from 18.6 per cent to 12.9 per cent.
In Abaco, the rate fell from 20.3 per cent to 12.2 per cent.
There was also a decline in youth unemployment (15-24 years) in the country, from the 31 per cent recorded last November to 25.3 per cent in May. However, that sector continues to face a considerably higher rate of unemployment that any other group, officials said.
Discouraged workers in the country declined by 13 per cent over the six-month reference period. New Providence, Grand Bahama and Abaco experienced declines in the number of discouraged workers: 14 per cent, 13 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.
The report, released on Friday, revealed that as of May 3, 2015, the labour force totalled 208,895.
According to Mr Turnquest, the FNM’s shadow minister of finance, the only true aspect of the unemployment report was the 36 per cent job loss in the financial services sector.
The report noted that the financial services sector – workers employed in finance, insurance, real estate and other business services – experienced the greatest job loss.
Mr Turnquest said “more often than not,” the economic livelihood of the Bahamas is often decided by the efficiency of this sector.
He added that the temporary labour with no benefits or entitlements for those involved with carnival and the fate of the more than the 2,400 Baha Mar workers who are now in limbo should not be presented as a positive.
He also suggested that the report left out the thousands of students hitting the unemployment line since June, the consolidation and closures of domestic and off shore banks, food stores, value-added import/export operations and many other sectors that have experienced job losses.
The Department of Statistics said it plans to offer further details on this report by October of this year.