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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentSenators Scrutinize Public Workforce and Government Workers

Senators Scrutinize Public Workforce and Government Workers

Commissioner Gary Molloy, left, answers a question from Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. (Screenshot from V.I. Legislature Facebook live stream)

Hurricanes, a pandemic, a large refinery shutting down, a declining population, and a high cost of living have played havoc on the territory’s workforce.

Lightcast, which bills itself as a global leader in labor market analytics, outlined to the Committee on Education and Workforce Development Thursday ways to improve the territory’s labor market.

Then, the heads of various agencies reported what programs they were initiating to help. They also heard complaints from senators about what was not being done.

Issues touched on included did the government employ too many people, why it takes the government so long in its hiring process, why all the paperwork when an employee retires, shouldn’t the vocational schools be able to hire experts, and what the Labor Department can do for the over 400 youths who apply for summer jobs but don’t get them?

Everyone appeared concerned about a shortage of workers for recovery projects. Gary Molloy, commissioner of the Labor Department, said, “There is no way we get through recovery without getting workers from outside.”

He emphasized that the focus was still on getting residents employed, but with an employment rate of 3.2 percent, the pool to draw on is small. He said his department had been communicating with the Bureau of Corrections concerning over 200 inmates up for release soon. Labor is discussing with the Bureau what training could be given to those inmates.

Sen. Marise James, who chaired the hearing, called that effort “excellent” because “reentry can be very difficult.”

The average government salary, which was $52,000, was also discussed. “That sounds like a lot, but it isn’t,” James said. She said trying to buy a house on that salary “doesn’t work.”

Sen. Kenneth Gittens pointed out that many exempt employees made much more than the average. James requested that the Personnel Department supply a breakdown of the employees in each $10,000 bracket.

The Lightcast consultant group presentation suggested that the government employs too many people and that more government employees should transfer to the private sector.

Molloy disagreed with that point. He said because the Virgin Islands was a “special place” and composed of islands, it couldn’t be compared with government entities on the mainland. Several testifiers stated that the government employed over 12,000 people years ago and now employs less than 6,000.

The Lightcast report recommends that the territory expand training for entry-level/low-skilled workers in agriculture and focus on entry-level training in financial services.

It also recommended the government adopt policies that lower the cost of living in the Virgin Islands.

Michael Carty, the State Workforce Development Board chairman, said he believes local businesses could do more to help train residents.

After that discussion, the committee brought up a bill transferring the administration of the Government Insurance Fund from the commissioner of the Finance Department to the commissioner of the Labor Department. Sen. Novelle Francis said the bill needed more work, so it was tabled.

As an aside to the meeting, Sen. Carla Joseph announced that she would soon introduce a bill calling for a 32-hour workweek to give workers more flexibility.

Sens. Diane Capehart, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis Jr., Kenneth Gittens, Javan James, Marise James, Franklin Johnson, and Carla Joseph attended the meeting.

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