News that unemployment levels in St Lucia had decreased dramatically was an announcement fitting of revelry in the streets. Not that it happened, however, since the statistics were marred by skepticism.
Earlier reports from the Office of the Prime Minister dated June 2017 indicated that unemployment levels had dropped from 22.1% to 20.1% as per the Department of Statistics. As compared to the first quarter of 2016, this year’s statistics for the first quarter are tremendously better, with even youth unemployment experiencing a slight decrease between the two quarters: from 11,700 to 10,700 in 2017. According to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, who credited developments including Royalton, Harbor Club and OJO Labs, these figures could be attributed to growth in the tourism and technological sectors.
On the other hand, male youth unemployment did not benefit from these decreases, and instead rose from 35.3% in the first quarter of 2016 to 41.6% in the first quarter of 2017. Admittedly, this comes as no surprise seeing that youth unemployment is consistently high in the Caribbean region.
The statistics for the third quarter of 2017 sounded even more promising: a fall from 20% from 2016, to 16.8%.
It was reported that the accommodation sector led the way in job growth. Speaking amidst numerous concerns as to the truth behind these statistics, Minister for Tourism, Dominic Fedee explained at this week’s Parliamentary session that the increased tourist arrivals and increased room stock in a number of hotels have aided the unemployment rate. New rooms at Royalton and Sandals Grande saw to the reemployment of many of the people employed in the hospitality sector. According to Fedee, the construction sector was ‘instrumental in creating jobs’, reference the ongoing works at Harbor Club and the completed works at Windjammer, Royalton and Sandals Halcyon.
Be this all well and good, what sticks out like a sore thumb is the vulnerability of the jobs which have now triggered the decline in the unemployment rate. In noway is this meant to trivialize the creation of employment, but the reality is that the tourism sector is fickle, and thrives during the high season which we happen to be in. There will always be a need for more persons in the hospitality sector to cater to the needs of a larger tourist population.
And what is to be said for the construction sector? What becomes of the hundreds of construction workers after the completion of Harbor Club and other properties? It is unwise to solely depend on new hotels for work. However, in June, the Prime Minister stated that the intent of the government was to foster an environment to enable the growth of entrepreneurship.
The reality is, continued focus needs to be placed on creating more employment given the temperamental nature of the tourism sector. At SALCC’s 31st graduation ceremony on December 3rd, the guest speaker stated ‘for many of you, if not all, being gainfully employed is at the forefront of your minds’. Of the 700 graduates armed with a piece of paper stating their qualifications, majority of them are still unemployed six months after leaving the institution. The job hunt is still a tedious task, and will continue to be until statistics prove otherwise.