Airport tax could be used to help workers laid off due to coronavirus, says Opposition

The Opposition Leader, Philip Pierre, is calling on the island’s government to use taxes collected from the airport head tax to assist workers who’ll lose jobs as a result of COVID-19.

Pierre noted that his party, The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), is serious about the proposals made when he addressed an emergency meeting of the National Emergency Management Advisory Committee (NEMAC).

With the government acknowledging that three hotels here have already decided to close down, cruise ship calls suspended for at least 30 (and possibly 60) days and 13,500 workers’ jobs at stake, Pierre is urging government to not only offer economic stimulus packages to businesses affected, but also to address the direct impact on tourism sector employees.’

The St. Lucia Hotels and Tourism Association (SLHTA), which unites the island’s hotels, guest houses, restaurants and other tourism-related enterprises, has also offered to make proceeds from its Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) available for the fight against the spread of Covid-19 after it was introduced here last weekend by two visitors from the UK and France, respectively.

The hotel industry is already hard hit with hundreds of cancellations per day, but while staff have been sent or asked to stay home as a result of permanent or temporary closures, hotel insurance policies do not include health emergencies like Covid-19.

Compensation for affected staff, while being considered in a few cases, will therefore not always be certain Pierre said, leaving affected workers as vulnerable as persons cohabiting with persons affected by the Coronavirus.

Pierre has further called for the government to use National Insurance Corporation (NIC) sick benefits, within the law to assist workers affected by the closures.

However, Pierre warned against contemplating a total lock-down of the entire country as being advocated by some, as, he said, that would require a level of necessary prior public consultation to ensure people understood why they would be asked to curtail or restrict regular or normal movements.

“You will not simply be able to tell some guys they cannot go down the road to play a game of dominos anymore, “Pierre said.

“We have the resilience capacity and Saint Lucians can be led to successfully overcome this crisis ‘if we put political posturing aside and agree this is not about one-upmanship,” Pierre added.

He further said the SLP would support parliamentary legislation to strengthen initiatives aimed at helping the economy and the country at large getting back to normal.