Unemployment benefits are needed in the Virgin Islands because people are “suffering,” the opposition has warned.

Deputy Speaker Stacy Mather sounded the alarm while questioning Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley on Jan. 30 in the House of Assembly.

“Under his portfolio, the public assistance review that was done last year also spoke to unemployment benefits for all people, because a number of our people are suffering,” Mr. Mather said. “These things are becoming very critical in our society right now.”

In response to Mr. Mather’s questions, Mr. Wheatley said that successive government administrations have been working toward an unemployment insurance system since 2005.

“The Ministry of Health and Social Development remains committed to this goal of achieving universal social protection,” he said. “And one end to this can be achieved through the implementation of an unemployment insurance scheme.”

His ministry, he said, is currently working with the Social Security Board to assess the available information on the proposed system and to decide the way forward.

Minimum wage

During the same HOA meeting, Deputy Premier Lorna Smith was asked about the government’s ongoing review of the territory’s $6 per hour minimum wage.

“The government is committed to following a systematic and inclusive process to determine an appropriate minimum wage,” responded Ms. Smith, who is the minister of financial services, labour and trade.

To that end, she said, she appointed an advisory committee that first met on Nov. 22 and has until the end of March to complete a review.

“Upon completion of this investigation, the committee will submit a final report to the ministry,” she said. “Following Cabinet approval, we will then issue an order that describes any changes to minimum wage rates.”

For now, she said, the next step is stakeholder consultations.

“Currently, the committee is about to commence the stakeholder engagement phase, which involves soliciting input from employees, employers and their respective representatives,” she said. “This will be administered through public meetings, media engagement and surveys.”