Labour Market Developments

Author(s): Central Bank Of Barbados

Created 23 Feb, 2023
Categories General Press Release
Views: 2525

Labour Market Developments

Barbados’ labour force is small and concentrated in the services sector.  The labour market composition mirrors the main drivers of economic activity, with services accounting for about 86 percent of the 125,800 employed persons. With shares remaining relatively unchanged over the last decade, the wholesale and retail trade sector accounts for the largest share of persons employed (19,000 workers) followed by the accommodation and food services sector (15,200 workers) and then public administration and defence. Together these three sectors accounted for around 30 percent of the island’s real gross domestic product in 2021.

Employment and Real GDP Shares

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbados, like many countries around the world, closed non-essentials services in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly SARS-CoV-2 and its ensuing variants which resulted in a significant increase in the number of unemployed persons. Estimates vary as to the unprecedented level of job losses, as shut-downs restricted the collection of data during the period. However, the significant increase in the number of persons claiming unemployment benefits during the period suggest that the country’s jobless rate peaked at over 30 percent over the first half of 2020. The sectors hardest hit – tourism and wholesale and retail trade – contracted by 58 percent and 21 percent respectively, during 2020.  

As testing, quarantining and the vaccine roll-out intensified, Barbados steadily regained a level of normality within the labour market. Prior to the pandemic, the number of persons recorded as full-time workers represented about 94 percent of the total labour force with the difference of just around 8,000 persons working less than 20 hours weekly. During this period, males made up on average about 47 percent of these part-time workers. At the height of the pandemic, there was a 57 percent increase in the number of persons working part-time, as the number of full-time workers declined by around 15 percent (18,000 workers). At the same time, there was a notable increase in the number of persons recorded as working less than five hours weekly.  At end September 2022, there was continued evidence that pre-COVID trends within the labour market had returned, with most indicators signalling improvements over 2019’s performance.

Selected Labour Indicators

An examination of the labour force, shows that despite similar recovery trends post-2020, the total labour force has been steadily declining with a contraction of over 8,200 persons since 2015 when the average labour force totalled around 145,000 persons. Females as a share of the total labour force remained relatively constant over the review period, at about 49 percent, except for one quarter during the pandemic when the female labour force peaked at 70,000. The total adult population has been relatively constant at about 220,000 individuals within the last decade, with the number of adults classified as not active hovering between 75,000 to 80,000 during the same period. The labour participation rate, which gauges the number of persons actively seeking employment within the eligible adult population, has fallen 4 percentage points below the pre-crisis mean of around 66 percent. At the end of September 2022, the female rate of labour participation was historically low at 56 percent, while for males, the measure was one percent above the outturn at the end of 2019 at 68 percent.

NIS Contributors and Pensioners

One of the notable implications for the contracting labour force over the last few years has been the persistent loss in the number of employees contributing to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). The most recent NIS actuarial report shows that the total number of contributors has been steadily declining since 2008 and this was further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the corresponding period, the number of pensioners outpaced the number of contributors such that the demographic ratio (the number of pensioners per 100 insured persons) jumped from just over 25 in 2006 to 44 in 2020.  

These developments have implications for the long-term viability of the National Insurance Scheme, and efforts are under consideration for strengthening the Fund so as to minimise the future impact on Government of protecting the social safety net for the elderly.

Further data, details and in-depth definitions on the labour market can be found at

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