Minister of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda (left) accepting his Instrument of Appointment from Governor General Sir Patrick Allen at Kings House, yesterday (Photo: Norman Thomas)

'Uncle Sam' takes aim at social security


Veteran Member of Parliament (MP) and new Minister of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda has identified more support for the neediest Jamaicans as one of his focus areas as he moves into his new role.

Samuda served as the Minister of Education in the last days of the previous Administration, but has been shifted to the ministry which is mandated to contribute to national development through the provision of efficient and effective labour and social security services within the context of a globalised economy.

The ministry is also mandated to promote a stable industrial climate through tripartite dialogue; ensure the highest standards of occupational safety and health at the workplace; and facilitate increased access to employment.

But with the country grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic, perhaps the immediate major task that will face Samuda at the ministry now is the effective management of the country's social protection programmes, including those for groups with special needs, such as households below the poverty line, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

This is mainly done through the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), which is a conditional cash transfer scheme aimed at delivering benefits by way of grants to the most needy and vulnerable in the society.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer shortly before he was one of 14 ministers sworn in yesterday to serve in the 19-member Cabinet named by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Samuda underscored the importance of this area.

“I know it has a lot of areas that would impact directly on social that would certainly be an area of great concentration,” said Samuda who had previously headed the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Fisheries in the immediate aftermath of the Jamaica Labour Party's win in 2016.

He was later shifted to the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation where he served as a minister without portfolio, before being put in charge of the Ministry of Education.

At 78 years old, Samuda will be the oldest member of the Holness Cabinet and the one with the most experience at the ministerial level.

In the 1980s he served as minister of health and minister of industry and commerce.

He takes on the ministry with no formal experience in labour-relations matters, at a time when much of the labour force and employers are adjusting to a shift from traditional norms, to include work-from-home arrangements.

According to Samuda, in addition to social support and labour matters, he will also be zoning in on the management of the National Insurance Fund, to ensure that those investments are protected and expanded to meet the needs of beneficiaries.

Already at least one union is anticipating urgent attention for a number of areas under the labour portfolio.

In an interview last Friday, general secretary of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees John Levy outlined some of these, to include the practice in many private organisations of depriving employees of retirement benefits.

“Companies have their different retirement ages and you stay with them until age 68 or 69 and there is nothing for you to get, no form of pension, nothing... after 30 years with one company with no pension scheme and they send you home with the week's pay. This needs to be addressed,” argued Levy.

He said the union is also concerned about a move to remove the oversight of redundancy matters from the labour ministry and place it with the courts.

Samuda succeeds Mike Henry who was named by Holness to replace Shahine Robinson after she died in May, having led the ministry from 2016.

He will be supported by Zavia Mayne, who returns to the ministry as a state minister.