Gauging the true picture of the effect the Novel Coronavirus is having on the working class of the Virgin Islands (VI) is proving to be somewhat of a challenge since some employers have not been truthful about the status of their employees.
According to Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, Honourable Vincent O. Wheatley (R9), this is likely to have an adverse effect on Government’s ability to accurately work out its stimulus plan aimed at assisting both employers and employees.
‘Not exactly truthful’
“So I found a lot of companies, or some companies, have not been exactly truthful with what they are actually doing. They are saying that they haven’t laid off when in fact I know that they have persons who are not working there anymore,” Hon Wheatley stated while a guest on JTV’s “The Big Story” aired yesterday, May 25, 2020.
Hon Wheatley was at the time discussing mechanisms put in place at the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and Immigration Department to reduce traffic and make certain processes as seamless as possible, while also requiring businesses to complete a survey of the employees’ current status.
According to the Minister, based on weekly reports being gathered, he is of the strong view businesses are not telling the truth about the status of employees.
“We do reports every week. We ask businesses to please let us know what the state of your company is? How many persons you have retained? How many persons you would have laid off?
“I got a report last week but from my ears on the ground and what the businesses are telling me, I have found discrepancies. I don’t think that people are being totally truthful with what the true picture is on the ground.”
Hon Wheatley said he spends a lot of time among the people, “And I hear conversations, I have a way of verifying what somebody is telling me.
“If somebody is telling me that me and my two friends are laid off and we have ten workers, then when I read your report it shouldn’t say that I have ten workers working still because I know for a fact that three of them have been laid off, I can verify that. So found a lot of companies, or some companies have not been exactly truthful with what they are actually doing.”
Accurate picture needed
Stating that the government needs to know the true picture, Hon Wheatley said the form as is can give the needed accurate picture, “I think the form is clear enough, I don’t know why persons would try to misguide us in some instances as to what the true picture is. We have to know what the true picture is on the ground.
“The Premier is working on the Stimulus Package for the businesses and the unemployed, we need to know as best as we can what those accurate figures are.”
Additionally, he said the survey is also geared at ensuring persons now unemployed find jobs at the earliest possible time.
“What we are trying to understand also with those persons who have been laid off is will you be staying with us for a while? Can you afford to stay or will you be going back home or travelling somewhere else?”
“A lot of folks have left already, some are still here, again, we need to understand what they are doing so we know what we are up against. We don’t have an endless field of money to sustain people for a long period of time. What we need to understand is what we are capable of doing and what we are not capable of doing and we can only make those decisions on accurate and truthful information.”
Fear of repatriation?
Agreeing with the host of the interview Ms Cathy O. Richards, Hon Wheatley said he suspects persons are fearful that government may be seeking to rid the Territory of those expats who have lost their jobs during this period.
“People want to make this crisis into from here and a not from here, national vs non-nationals, it doesn’t call for that, we have to treat people as humans, we are all humans and we are going to do the best we can to take care of everyone within our borders.”
On the other hand; however, the Minister said should they find expats in the Territory incapable of taking care of themselves and the government also is not in a position to do the same for them, “Then we have to make a decision. That to me is the reasonable and the human thing to do.”
Hon Wheatley said he thinks it should not come to the situation where Government has to round up persons and send them out of the Territory indiscriminately.
He said his main concern at this time is, “Non-nationals who does not have work and cannot sustain themselves because that is going to affect the whole situation. As an elected person my first responsibility is to the citizens of this country, not to anybody else, but we will try our best to make everybody feel welcome and comfortable for as long as we can.”