Income down to zero

NATHALIE Ali is a single mother who earns a living by babysitting children in her community.

The 38-year-old mother of two says she has no other support system to meet her financial commitments.

Ali said the confirmation of COVID-19 in Trinidad and Tobago has crippled her small business, dropping her income to zero.

“Since then no one is bringing their children. I have to close for the duration and life is becoming very difficult,” she said.

According to the International Labour Organisation database, as at September 2019 in Trinidad and Tobago, 23.38 per cent of the labour force was self-employed.

Ali is among several self-employed people in Trinidad and Tobago who called on the authorities to implement provisions to protect their businesses and livelihoods.

She said, “Self-employed people were not really mentioned by the Prime Minister and Labour Minister. It’s like we are not important.”

Ali said it has become difficult to pay bills and other living expenses.

Plea for support

And a massage therapist who asked not to be named said she has closed her business.

“My appointments have all been cancelled. I have no reason to keep the business open. I am still required to pay my bills and rent. I also have to maintain my children and household,” she said.

Hairdressers, aestheticians, masons, welders and other self employed people have also appealed to the Government to offer support.

Taxi drivers have also expressed concern about the COVID-19 pandemic, with some opting to stay off the roads, leaving passengers stranded or having to wait a long time for transportation.

Last week, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus announced that Government plans to implement pandemic leave to workers.

Pandemic leave will apply to all public officers, including those who are not eligible for sick leave, during the COVID-19 pandemic and parents who have no one to take care of their children during the mandatory closure of schools.

This category of leave does not apply to the self-employed.

Baptiste-Primus said, “Self-employed people is self explanatory. That issue did engage the committee’s attention and we did engage in discussion. If someone is self employed that person is responsible for himself or herself like any other member of the community and therefore must be guided by the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of National Security.”

The Labour Ministry guidelines will however apply to the workers of self-employed people.

Asked whether the authorities will consider making provisions for income support for people who are self-employed, Baptiste-Primus said that issue will have to “engage the attention of Cabinet”.

Baptiste-Primus said the new category of leave forms part of a draft policy for workplaces in dealing with COVID-19.

She said it will first go before the National Tripartite Advisory Council for discussion.

The Council comprises members of the business sector, Employers Consultative Association (ECA), trade union movement and Tobago House of Assembly (THA).

Once approved by Cabinet, the document will then be disseminated throughout the public service, trade unions and the private sector, Baptiste-Primus noted.

She said during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic employers are required to implement pandemic leave provisions within their organisations in a “compassionate manner, which ensures business continuity whilst securing the national interest”.

“We are all in this together. We cannot monitor all the employers out there. We have to appeal to their sense of compassion and their sense of understanding what is being faced in this country and to their sense of fairness to treat with their employees fairly and to follow the guidelines that we have set,” she stated.

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