Economist: Cruise ship job rush reflects employment crisis in T&T

Economist and employment researcher Dr Ralph Henry is viewing the flocking of hundreds of people seeking jobs on board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship as an employment crisis in the country.

Henry said the growing unemployment rate can only be addressed by Government bent on making tough decisions.

His comments came on the heels of throngs of desperate people who converge at the Southern Academy of the Performing Arts (SAPA), the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) and Shaw Park Cultural Complex in Tobago to register for jobs with the luxury liner.

While many see the stress, confusion and chaos surrounding the available vacancies, Henry did not deny the fact that we are facing a job crisis on our hands.

“Yes, it is an employment crisis and fundamentally it can only be addressed when we take the hard decisions.”

Henry said the gathering of hundred to secure jobs did not come as a surprise to him.

“I am not really shocked by it.”

He attributed the jobs lost as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic also increased our debt levels with the Government providing sustenance to a large number of people who were thrown on the breadline and who could not carry the financial burdens.

The country’s unemployment rate now stands at a worrying 6.74 per cent.

As for the jobs being offered by Royal Caribbean, Henry said, both the employed and unemployed would have applied for a number of available positions.

The gainfully employed would seek out better positions and higher incomes than the domestic market can offer.

“Those who are currently employed would see a better opportunity working on a cruise ship and earning US dollars.”

He said the street rate for a US dollar is far higher than what the banks currently offer.

“So people are doing all kinds of conversions of what will be their real income if they got US dollars, and having done that conversion, they see it as a better opportunity.”

The unemployed would try to secure any available job as a means of survival.

“It’s like external migration.”

Even though the US has been facing a turbulent economy, Henry said, they have been offering greater opportunities for our citizens than our domestic market.

With the Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT) issuing retrenchment letters to 468 workers last week and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) on the cusp of restructuring, Henry said, T&T will have to brace for a rough ride ahead.

“Forty per cent of the workforce is not capable of meeting up to the challenge of being competitive workers in the evolving global economy. When we talk about the global economy we see how fractured it is now.”

He said people who left school a long time ago need to attend evening classes, be trained and upgraded.

“They must have a sense that their survival depends on what they can put in their heads. Plenty of our people left school with not enough in their heads because our educational system has been woeful, actually when we compare ourselves with the competitors.”

Henry admitted that T&T clearly has a problem with unemployment and underemployment.

While the Government has been able to keep the lid on some of our problems by maintaining the Cepep and URP programmes, he said, in the long term it cannot be sustainable.

These programmes, he said have been “shielding the population from some of the realities.”

In going forward, Henry said, the Government has to diversify and get into new activities for the economy to grow.

T&T, he said, must create niche markets abroad, stating that we have to shift our reliance on hydrocarbons.

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