By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
LABOUR Minister Dion Foulkes said yesterday his department does not have any evidence China Construction America (CCA) has broken the agreed workforce ratio outlined in the Heads of Agreement with the government for The Pointe development in downtown Nassau.
But as Mr Foulkes said there had been no complaints Minister of Financial Services and Immigration Brent Symonette conceded the government currently had no idea how many foreign workers are currently engaged on the project.
According to the terms of the agreement signed with the $200m project’s developers under the previous Christie administration, 70 percent of the workforce is supposed to be Bahamian and at the “peak” of construction that number should be about 200 people.
However, on Friday Tribune photographers monitored who went on to the site and with the exception of three or four Bahamians and a guard at the gates of the development, everyone else appeared to be Chinese.
Previously, this newspaper observed workers on the site in both January and February and it was a similar story. Dozens of Chinese builders walked on to the site every day from a building, which lodges the workers opposite the development, and virtually no Bahamians were anywhere to be seen.
“We don’t have any evidence of that,” Mr Foulkes said when he was asked about concerns the workforce ratio was not being adhered to yesterday ahead of a Cabinet meeting. “There hasn’t been any complaints made concerning that.”
Earlier in the interview he said: “The prime minister is concerned about the ratio but it is an agreement that we met in place that the former government signed off on, 30 (percent) to 70 percent. We are uncomfortable with that ratio but we have to honour the arrangement that the previous government made.”
Asked about the concerns, Mr Symonette said while the matter is one for the Department of Labour, he was not aware of any excessive amount of work permits being issued by immigration officials to CCA or The Pointe. He said it was something officials would look into.
Mr Symonette said he did not know how many foreign workers were on the site, explaining the current computer system does not allow officials to work out those figures.
However, he said by July, the Department of Immigration’s new system should be functional and the numbers would be readily available.
When he was contacted by this newspaper on Sunday, Mr Symonette said he was not sure whether CCA was compliant with the 70/30 ratio spelled out in the Heads of Agreement, but said he would find out.
For his part, if complaints are lodged with the Department of Labour, Director of Labour Robert Farquharson said Sunday it will “take steps to confirm that the terms of the Heads of Agreement are complied with.”
The Heads of Agreement for the project, tabled in Parliament in 2017, granted China Construction America between 400-500 work permits for the $200m development.
The deal, dated June 18, 2015, stipulated Bahamians would comprise 70 percent of the total construction workforce, once those employed by local sub-contractors were included in the calculation.
And Bahamian sub-contractors were supposed to receive “approximately 40 percent of development work…in various classifications,” although those were not listed.
However, the document stated the parties “may, through mutual agreement, vary their employment ratio if it becomes necessary for earlier completion.”
The 70 percent Bahamian labour component was thus subject to alteration, but based on the 400-500 Chinese work permits, that implied around 800-1,000 construction jobs for Bahamians.
The document also committed CCA to “make every effort to fill as many jobs as possible with Bahamian citizens.” However, it then added: “The government recognises, however, that due to the development of the proposed high-rise structures and the tight schedule to complete the development, non-Bahamian labour with special skills and expertise that are not readily available in the Bahamas will be required.”
In 2016, then Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell claimed there were too many non-Bahamian workers at the site. The Department of Labour was subsequently asked to probe the ratio of Bahamian workers to foreign workers at the Bay Street development.