Assembly calls for more consideration in salary assistance for inner islands’ employees | 04 June 2020
Through a private notice question, the leader of the opposition Wavel Ramkalawan has called on the ministry of finance to urgently reconsider the applications for wages assistance that have been rejected for Praslin and La Digue, to visit and engage in an urgent conversation with businesses that have money in their accounts considered enough to pay their employees.
Mr Ramkalawan remarked that the situation of the two islands is special because the impact of the COVID-19 on them is more severe as almost if not all businesses, the inhabitants of the islands are connected to or work in the main industry on the islands which is tourism.
Finance, Trade, Investment and Economic Planning Minister Loustau-Lalanne informed the National Assembly that there were altogether 539 applications from Praslin totalling R25.8 million and 212 from La Digue amounting to R8.71 million.
The minister noted that businesses which applied vary to include tour operators, diving instructors, skippers, taxi operators, hotels, bakery, fitness gyms, souvenir shops, farmers, take-aways, boat charters.
For Praslin a total of 463 applications have been accepted for a sum of R16.8 million while 76 have been rejected at the value of R6.4 million.
For La Digue, 178 applications have been accepted totalling R5.7 million and 34 have not been accepted at a value of R1.6 million.
Minister Loustau-Lalanne explained that the reasons for rejection include the fact that some businesses have enough money in their bank account to pay their employees’ salaries, businesses which have never registered with the Seychelles Revenue Commission (SRC) or were not in order with payment of their taxes, businesses that were withholding information, and persisted not to when asked to provide same, construction businesses from classes 1 and 2 except if they had contracts with hotels which have been cancelled.
“An appeal process is also underway to relook at the rejected applications,” Minister Loustau-Lalanne informed National Assembly members, calling on the concerned businesses to lodge their appeal.
There are businesses which have also submitted their claims for assistance for the month of May. The minister highlighted that President Danny Faure has chaired four meetings with concerned parties, partners, stakeholders, representatives of the private sector, Seychelles Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), business representatives for Praslin and La Digue and workers’ representatives to ensure all issues related to workers are addressed properly.
He added that in the meantime discussions and consultations between all concerned parties will continue.
As Praslin and La Digue depend almost entirely on the tourism industry for their livelihood through a variety of economic activities, Minister Loustau-Lalanne said the department of employment is closely watching and assessing the situation and it will work closely with the Enterprise Seychelles Agency (Esa) and other authorities on the two islands to know and assess their needs in terms of employment, and training for small businesses.
The minister noted that once these have been established and depending on the competence of the people identified, a re-skilling programme will be organised. Additionally, he noted that people will also have the possibility to be trained to develop new skills in new fields which would soon be identified, while others will follow new training in other tourism-related areas to boost their skills and competence in preparation for the resumption in future of tourism-related economic activities on the two islands.
Mr Ramkalawan stressed that people working in the industry have freely expressed their frustration and noted that there have been no dialogue and consultation with them to know more about money in their account for instance before their requests for assistance were turned down.
He has called on the minister to visit the two islands to talk to the business owners and to reconsider their requests through more conversations as well as to urgently send concerned officers to the two islands to meet directly with those businesses whose applications have been rejected.
Mr Ramkalawan further added that when considering money in the bank accounts of the different businesses, the ministry should realise that when the National Assembly approved a budget to help pay salaries, this was under wage grant and not to assist the businesses themselves.
He stressed that on La Digue for instance which is very small and where all economic activities centred around tourism, when a business does not receive assistance its employees have nowhere else to go for an alternative employment option. After raising several other issues relating to employment, welfare benefits and employment options for people who have lost their jobs on these two islands, Mr Ramkalawan called on Minister Loustau-Lalanne to urgently reconsider the assessments and appeal cases of applications for assistance in relation to the two islands whose situation is more special.
Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) elected member for Grand Anse Praslin, Wavel Woodcock, argued that many small businesses and sole traders who were promised an assistance are worried because they have now been informed that this will not be forthcoming.
Mr Woodcock said it is also unfair to learn that 76 businesses on Praslin have not qualified for the assistance because the majority of them have worked hard to put aside some savings while others who have not been serious, and those with huge amount of capital to support them have already benefitted.
Other MNAs from the two islands also aired their related concerns.
Minister Loustau-Lalanne insisted that all businesses which do not qualify are given the reasons why and they should cooperate fully with the competent authorities and fill in the criteria correctly. He also insisted that there is fairness in the whole process and all rejected applicants should go through the appeal process and hopefully more clarity will be found.