Outspoken Achile Joseph of the DEF at a meeting in 2018
Outspoken Achile Joseph of the DEF at a meeting in 2018

Dominican employers who are members of the Dominica Employers Federation (DEF) have repeated their support for the use of the Redundancy Fund of the Dominica Social Security (DSS) to assist workers who are being affected by loss of jobs due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

"The DEF continues to maintain that the funds can and should be used to assist those whose income have been affected by COVID 19," the DEF said in a press statement issued today. "It is very unfortunate that the public has made it a political matter and targeted the Prime Minister".

Over the past few days the DEF and the Dominica Social Security (DSS) have been ensnared in a controversy about the use of the DSS Redundancy Fund.

The genesis of the disagreement was a statement by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit about the Government's use of EC$8 million from the Redundancy Fund currently being managed by the DSS.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced last Saturday that he had "approved" the use of the fund as part of a proposed stimulus package to assist people affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Dominica Social Security has a fund of $12 million. I have approved for $8 million of this to be set aside to help the people who would have lost their jobs; plus an additional $9.5 million added to that from the Government, in the first instance," Prime Minister Skerrit told a COVID-19 press briefing.

But, as we reported earlier, Government apparently did not anticipate the controversy that Mr. Skerrit's announcement created.

Leader of the Opposition Lennox Linton, for example, said the proposal amounted to a run on the DSS.

"This is an $8 million raid on the Dominica Social Security at a time when he (the Prime Minister) has under his private control in excess of a billion dollars of public money," Linton said in a Facebook post.

Linton and the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) have contended for months that the Prime Minister has at his disposal more than $400 million from an international airport development fund and over $1 billion from the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme.

Prime Minister Skerrit subsequently said on Kairi FM, that the suggestion for the use of the DSS Redundancy Fund to assist workers made unemployed or semi-employed by COVID-19 came directly from the DSS and not from the Prime Minister's office.

That assertion was supported by Janice Jean –Jacques, the director of the DSS who delivered a written statement at a Ministry of Health COVID-19 press briefing on Monday.

She declared that the DEF was among a number of private sector organisation that the DSS consulted on the use of the funds.

In the press statement today DEF management said in early March it submitted a proposal on the use of the Redundancy Fund to its board, affiliates and subsequently to government.

"Concerned with the number of employees likely to suffer loss of income because of lay-offs and quarantine, and the CoVID-19 related impacts on the business of enterprise, added to the fact that there was no public information regarding plans for a national income replacement initiative for employees, the DEF, in the month of March 2020, created a "10-Point Emergency Business And Labour Market Stabilisation Plan Proposal" which was approved by the Board of Governors, and communicated to some members for critique," the DEF release stated.

It added: "Part of the plan proposal called for utilisation of funds from the Redundancy Benefit Fund as income substitution for employees. Following a meeting with the senior management of the DSS, and another between the Government and private sector leaders at which the DEF representative promised the Prime Minister that the plan proposal would be transmitted to him, this was done on March 25th and copied to the Cab Sec and FS.

"Thereafter, DSS, DEF, DHTA and DAIC discussed, inter alia, a broader income substitution scheme with the potential to affect 7,500 displaced employees. This revised scheme was tabled with a provision to utilise $8M from the Fund. DEF gave its agreement in principle.

"At a subsequent Zoom meeting with the Hon Prime Minister, and Hon Minister for Tourism, among other Government officials, and private sector leaders from DEF, DMA, DBF, DAIC and DHTA, DEF explained the proposal to utilise $8M from the Fund to benefit up to 7,500 displaced employees for a period of up to six (6) weeks, following which the respective employers and employees will decide on redundancy or recall to work".

The DSS Redundancy Fund, the DEF explained in the statement, "is monies set aside by employers to assist them in times of force majeure when they may resort to redundancies and do not have the monies on hand to meet redundancy payments. At all material times, the DEF considered the utilisation of the Fund as a loan to be repaid".

Amidst the controversy, Prime Minister Skerrit has since turned down the recommendation for the use of the Redundancy Fund, DSS director Jean-Jacques told Q95 FM yesterday afternoon.