By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
EXPATRIATE workers account for no more than 10 per cent of the Freeport industrial sector’s workforce, one executive said yesterday, telling Tribune Business that the real challenge was finding employees with the required skills at entry level.
Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, during his Mid-Year Budget communication on Monday, described the issue of work permits on Grand Bahama as “most vexing”. He singled out several businesses with which the Department of Immigration has had discussions.
But one executive, speaking to Tribune Business on condition of anonymity, said: “The industrial services sector of Freeport engages as many Bahamians as you have in the financial services sector in Nassau.
“The average income of persons in the industrial services sector is higher than in financial services. If you look across the industry in Freeport, the total number of expatriates - certainly at the management level of those companies - is minuscule, and the absolute number on average is no more than 10 per cent of the workforce.
“Some of the smaller companies that do industrial services, where they have fluctuations because they work on projects, the Bahamian to expatriate ratio could be higher. The general view is not an issue of placement of Bahamians, because there are professional Bahamians at all levels of industry. The challenge in Freeport in industry is at the entry level, people coming in with the requisite skills to be trained.”
Mr Mitchell had singled out the Grand Bahama Power Company for allegedly using foreign workers as a union busting tactic. He also singled out Quality Services, which has been criticised for union busting in the past.
“I have met with the Grand Bahama Shipyard; Quality Services. I will meet with BORCO and Club Fortuna and other businesses and businessmen in Grand Bahama,” Mr Mitchell said.
“We provide a support role to the Ministry of Grand Bahama, and the Minister of Grand Bahama sits in on all Immigration Board meetings in Freeport. If the complaints continue, we have made it clear to industry in Grand Bahama that we will begin to refuse all requests for work permits cold turkey, unless there is a clear understanding of the need for polices to hire and train Bahamians.”
Mr Mitchell added: “I would like to respond to the concerns of our supporters in Grand Bahama, who have complained about the coming of foreign workers to the facilities of Quality Services, who have just gotten a big job to build a device for a company in New Jersey.
“The Ministry of Grand Bahama has met with the company and warned them that they are to perform the promises that they made when we agreed to grant the work permit. This means that Bahamians on the job who were dismissed were to be re-hired, and there is to be a training programme. The permits will be revoked if the Ministry of Grand Bahama certifies that the conditions under which they were granted are not met.”
Tribune Business attempted to obtain comment from Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president Barry Malcolm, who said he would speak on the issue at the upcoming Grand Bahama Business Outlook confefrence on Thursday.
While Tribune Business was unable to get comment from some of the businesses highlighted by Mr Mitchell, one Grand Bahama company which does employ expatriate workers said that it was working well with Government on the issue.
PharmaChem business manager, Randy Thompson, said that while the company was one which employs expatriate workers, it nonetheless had a 95 per cent Bahamian staff and the Government understood the company’s position.
Speaking for PharmaChem only, Mr Thompson said: “PharaChem works very well with the Government and Immigration. We have no specific issues. The Government understands that we are a technical organisation and require skills that are typically not readily available in the Bahamas.
“Nonetheless, we are very proud to say - and the Government recognises - that we are 95 per cent Bahamian, including a Bahamian CEO, and that speaks well for the corporation. We work well with the Government, and the Government understands our needs when we have to make a technical request.”