By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE CONSTRUCTION industry is just at "the threshold of recovery" from the global recession, the Bahamian Contractors Association's (BCA) president telling Tribune Business yesterday that estimates of a 3.5 percentage point drop in the sector's total employment contribution seemed accurate.
Godfrey Forbes, who also heads Dykton Mechanical, said estimates by the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) that the Bahamian construction industry had shed over 7,000 jobs between 2007-2010 seemed accurate.
"I think that basically sounds pretty close to what we have experienced in the construction industry, yes," Mr Forbes told Tribune Business. "I think we are just at the threshold of recovery at this point, and have not made any significant strides as yet."
He acknowledged that despite the heavy reliance on Chinese labour and contractors, especially in the main construction, Baha Mar's $2.6 billion Cable Beach redevelopment - where $400 million worth of contracts are reserved for Bahamians - would play a key role in the industry's rehabilitation.
ECLAC, in its Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean report, said the Bahamas' reliance on tourism had ensured the global recession's impact on employment was "especially severe", due to the immediate knock-on effects for supporting industries such as construction and distribution.
Breaking down the impact by industry, the ECLAC report said: "In the Bahamas, too, the global crisis affected all sectors except 'other sectors', 'wholesale and retail', and the combined agriculture and mining sector, whose share in total employment rose from 49.3 per cent to 52.3 per cent; from 14.5 per cent to 15.6 per cent; and from 4 per cent to 5.1 per cent, respectively.
"Similar to the pattern in Trinidad and Tobago, the construction and manufacturing sectors bore the worst impact, followed by the tourism sector.
"Between 2007 and 2010, these sectors' share in total employment dropped from 12.4 per cent to 8.7 per cent; from 3.7 per cent to 2.8 per cent; and from 16 per cent to 15.5 per cent, respectively. During this period, the construction industry shed a total of 7,035 jobs and manufacturing lost 1,835 jobs."
The statistics produced by ECLAC show that the construction industry's share of total Bahamian employment dropped by three-and-a-half percentage points between 2007 and 2010.
The rapid construction industry decline is also likely to explain the relatively high level of male unemployment in the Bahamas, when compared to Barbados and Jamaica.
For instance, the male unemployment rate in Barbados, which started at 6.4 per cent in 2007, peaked at 10.1 per cent in 2009 and had fallen to 8 per cent by last year. In Jamaica, the male unemployment rate stood at 8.4 per cent in 2007, rose slightly to 8.5 per cent in 2009, and hit 9.2 per cent last year.
In contrast, male unemployment in the Bahamas was already higher in 2007, standing at 9.3 per cent for that year compared to just a 7 per cent female unemployment rate. While the women would catch up to their male counterparts, Bahamian male unemployment remained much higher than in Barbados or Jamaica, standing at 11.9 per cent in 2009 and 13.7 per cent in 2011.