The overwhelming response to Royal Caribbean International’s recruitment exercise, with thousands lining up for hours to apply for 2,000 entry-level cruise ship jobs, might be a more accurate representation of the state of T&T’s labour market than the official unemployment figures.
The data collated by the Central Statistical Office (CSO) does not necessarily reflect the extent of the informality in T&T’s job market, or the effect of make-work programmes like CEPEP and URP. These are factors that make it difficult to gauge the extent of unemployment and underemployment in the country.
But this week, the lines of jobseekers snaking around NAPA in Port-of-Spain one day and SAPA in San Fernando the next, were visual proof of the high demand for jobs. It is safe to say that the recruitment exercise, which has been extended for one more day, is already oversubscribed.
Some among those thousands of applicants might have been attracted by the opportunities to travel the world and meet people available in the cruise ship industry, but it is also likely that many of those standing in line for hours were just in need of a job.
Whatever the motivations of those thousands of jobseekers, the turnout for the Royal Caribbean recruitment exercise lends credence to International Labour Organisation (ILO) forecasts for continued high unemployment across Latin America and the Caribbean, where job markets are still recovering from the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Locally, the retrenchments, temporary layoffs and reductions in working hours have not eased, even with the extremely optimistic outlook for the economy presented in Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s Mid-term Budget Review last month. The impending retrenchment of 468 TSTT workers highlights the uncertainty in the labour market.
The commitment from Royal Caribbean International to hire 2,000 people from this country—the result of a memorandum of understanding recently signed with the Tourism Ministry—is the kind of incentive needed at this time.
However, those cruise ship jobs are just a drop in the bucket, given the overwhelming numbers vying for those entry-level positions.
In its most recent assessment of T&T, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted the problems of low labour participation rate, insufficient job creation and low labour productivity among the issues that need to be addressed.
ILO’s Regional Specialist in Labour Economics, Roxana Maurizio, recently urged countries in the region “to adopt a broader agenda of comprehensive and far-reaching policies focused on people and, in particular, on the creation of formal employment.”
“Without a coherent set of measures to generate jobs, the impacts of the crisis will be prolonged and will leave deep social and labour scars in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Maurizio said.
This is a warning that should be heeded by the Dr Keith Rowley administration, which should be making job creation a priority. Faced with an unemployment rate that now stands at a worrying 6.74 per cent, it is time to make up for all the ground lost during the acute phase of the pandemic.
The Royal Caribbean recruitment exercise has exposed the desperate need for more jobs. This should be addressed with urgency before the situation gets much worse.