In his first public response to the recent disclosure by the Department of Statistics that unemployment now stood at 25 percent, Anthony said the situation could “get a little worse before it gets better”.
Private-sector interests have been lobbying government to revisit the newly introduced 15 percent Value Added Tax, saying it has impacted expansion-plans job creation.
“I have said before that it would get a little worse before it gets better, and I believe that the worst is over for the private sector. The problem now lies on the government’s side, given the fiscal adjustments that we have to make,” said Anthony.
“Over the last year, several St Lucians have lost their jobs, and some of the island’s major retailers such as Minville and Chastanet and a number of regional banks have been forced to reduce employees prematurely by inviting them to accept severance packages.”
Prime Minister Anthony said the recent decision by Telecommunications Company, LIME to terminate several employees had prompted him to write the company.
But he also said he remained convinced that the island’s job situation was stabilising and that had it not been for the National Initiative to Create Employment programme (NICE), unemployment would have been higher.
“In a sense, the NICE programme is helping to contain the numbers at the moment. But while it is true that people are getting jobs, it is an artificial containment in the sense that it is employment that is not nationally created by growth in the economy,” Anthony said.
The opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has accused the prime minister of being clueless on how to deal with the economy, but Anthony has brushed aside the criticism, saying that the unemployment rate was as high as what the former government had left behind.
“If it was not for NICE, the unemployment rate would have been higher. They did not have the imagination to establish a NICE programme to provide jobs for St Lucians … ,” said the Prime Minister, adding that his government had also made “massive investments” in social and community programmes.
“So had the UWP been in office at this time, the unemployment situation would have been more serious – that, I have no doubt about,” he said.