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URP workers sent home as Government seeks to restructure

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Approximately 60 workers in six regions throughout T&T employed with the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) have been sent home as Government seeks to restructure it. In a letter dated November 21 sent to the T&T Guardian yesterday, a monthly-paid worker who had been employed with the programme for more than six years received the termination letter from the Office of the Prime Minister on February 2. 



Devika Ramnath (not her real name) said she received the termination letter with little or no warning. She said although there were rumours of termination,  employees were given on official word as to who would be sent home and who would not. Ramnath is unsure of what she is going to do now since the URP job was her only source of employment and income. She worked as a monthly-paid clerical officer.


The letter read: “It is with deep regret that I inform you of the immediate termination of your appointment as Clerical Officer in the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP). This action is to facilitate the restructuring of the programme to ensure that it meets its original mandate as a social delivery service mechanism of providing short-term rotational employment for citizens who are currently without work.”


Local Government Minister Dr Suruj Rambachan said when, where, how did he say this? The restructuring began nine months ago and although his ministry only deals with the infrastructural aspect of it, Rambachan said URP was costing the State approximately $418 million ($398 million in Trinidad and $20 million in Tobago). “The Government has to get value for money,” Rambachan said. Some people employed with the programme, he said, often collected a salary but did not work. 


URP’s programme manager Thomas George said in a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday the termination exercise “weeded out” many people who “were not attending to their duties.” When asked why the letter was sent approximately two months after the date, George said it was felt it was not best to issue the letters in December. He said the former structure of the programme did not allow for the best people to enter into the programme. 


People employed in the agricultural section of it, he said, would not be terminated, since the Government intended to expand the agricultural unit. “People would be moved into the agricultural unit. URP is getting into agriculture and Food production would train people in developmental stages. We would recruit people into that,” he said. 



However, he added, “We cannot satisfy (the ministries) given the existing structure, given the personnel. All we served was Ministry of Local Government. Food Production needs a different type of person.” But Ramnath believes the terminations are politically motivated. She questioned why the Government sought to terminate the monthly-paid workers since they were not involved in ghost gangs  and had no direct access to people who were placed on work rosters. 


The 2013 budget statement presented by Finance Minister Larry Howai read, under the heading Restructuring of CEPEP and URP: “Mr Speaker, we are initiating the restructuring of the Community Enhancement and Protection of the Environment Programme (CEPEP) and the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) with a focus on skills development as employees are transferred from those programmes to private sector activities. 


“I propose to provide companies with a training allowance to assist in skill development. I shall now encourage companies to engage employees of the CEPEP and URP programmes. “The National Productivity Council which was established in January 2012 would be assigned the responsibility for managing the transition of the CEPEP and URP employees to the private sector. “Already a pilot has been initiated where a number of employees from these programmes have been used in cocoa harvesting.”


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