By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE National Insurance Board has received around 17,000 applications for unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic, Public Service and National Insurance Minister Brensil Rolle said yesterday.
Noting officials are working hard to expedite the claims, Mr Rolle said the applications submitted to NIB do not include those of hotel workers.
This, he said, is because NIB officials are engaged in discussions with hotel personnel to assist with faster payments for affected workers.
He said: “As of (Monday), approximately 17,000 applications have come before the NIB board to be processed. That excludes the major hotels because we are negotiating with them separately.
“…We are working with the hotels so that arrangements will be made to pay off their staff who are unemployed in a quicker way. Small businesses have been coming to us and we hope to quickly process their applications.”
He continued: “You know we are working on two fronts.
“Firstly, we’re dealing with those persons who are seeking unemployment assistance who’ve been laid off generally and secondly. . . we’ve become the government vehicle for dealing with self-employed individuals in the touristic industry.
“And so, the jet ski operators, the beach workers, the taxi drivers - they’re all coming to NIB. What we have done though is establish a platform and a small form that they could download to their telephone, fill out the application (so) it can be processed as quickly as possible.
“There are three things we are looking for - we want to see a letter from the employer. When it comes to the self-employed individuals, we’re looking for an ID, an indication from inland revenue to check your business background.”
Initially, the government had only announced help for self-employed and employed individuals directly connected to the tourism sector.
However, recognising that thousands have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced on Monday the government will expand its unemployment assistance programme to self-employed people outside of the tourism industry.
Still, it is not clear exactly when workers will be able receive the payments, with Mr Rolle telling reporters yesterday that officials are hoping to finalise the process very soon.
“One of the things we discussed yesterday in NIB is how we could make the process faster so that individuals through this period could get their money,” he said.
“…In terms of hotels and other big establishments, we’re working closely with them so that they could in some instances issue cheques to their persons who’ve been laid off.
“In terms of the self-employed individuals, I think we are at the advanced stage. We have a wonderful team the director has put together to process and we anticipate that very quickly, these individuals will receive their money.”
Once applications have been processed and approved, Mr Rolle also said payments will be transferred to individual’s respective banking accounts.
“We’re trying to reduce face to face contact so that we’re asking people for example to give us their bank account, confirm where they are, we process and we, in many instances, will deposit directly to the bank account.”
The same procedure, Mr Rolle said, applies for those on Family Islands.
When asked what will happen to workers whose employers have not paid their NIB benefits, the minister replied: “We’re negotiating with these businesses. This process will really expose businesses who have not been forthright in making payments to NIB but this is a time where we can negotiate with those businesses and come up with arrangements and get things done.
“We want persons to acknowledge that a bill exists, and we will set some parameters upon which we can make those arrangements to sort of soften the blow of COVID-19.”
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar has previously said the temporary unemployment rate could now probably be above 30 percent. He also said it was expected to grow, due to widespread hotel closures.