By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
HUNDREDS of job seekers attended the “Labour on the Blocks” job fair in Grand Bahama over the weekend in hopes of finding employment and to be registered in the Department of Labour’s databank.
Men and women stood in long lines under the hot sun, some with umbrellas, for about six hours on Saturday at the Susan J Wallace Community Centre and Park. The long queues were a painful indication of how bleak the employment situation in Grand Bahama is, said Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine.
While officials have touted the success of the initiative – Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes has said about 800 people have been hired from previous job fairs – Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip Davis has complained Saturday’s event was held at a poor location, and questioned if it was a public relations exercise as opposed to offering tangible employment opportunities.
Mr McAlpine shared similar concerns.
“It was a good idea getting a better sense of the people who are still seeking employment in Grand Bahama,” Mr McAlpine, a Free National Movement MP, said yesterday. “I don’t know that we can say the job fair was a success because to see those numbers were disheartening - it tells you how bad things are in Grand Bahama.
“I would rather see less people coming to the job fair, but to see those hundreds of people, perhaps maybe as high as 1,000, seeking jobs does not speak well of what’s happening in Grand Bahama from an economic perspective.”
He said location chosen for the job fair was not the best, as job seekers had to stand outside for hours.
“We should have been a little more considerate of people,” he said. “Persons having to stand in the sun for hours from one to five hours was a very bad thing to do.
“I was taking water to people and making sure they were comfortable and talking to people as well. They were disappointed because there were not 20 companies there, and the reality was that these are companies in Grand Bahama, with exception of Baha Mar, that many persons have already given their resume to, so maybe it was just to receive data.
“The question that needs to be asked is how many persons were hired on the spot. I have not heard of anyone being hired on the spot,” Mr McAlpine said.
For his part, Mr Davis said those attending the job fair were dealt with in a “demeaning” way, as he questioned the point of the event.
“Having fired in excess of 2,500 persons (from the civil service) without seeking to find jobs for them, what hope is engendered by these job fairs sponsored by the government?
“. . . The exercise in Freeport was demeaning and degrading to our people,” Mr Davis said. “It insults the intelligence of our people because even in their desperation to find work, they all know that these job fairs will produce little in terms of concrete work.”
Mr Foulkes and Minister of State for Grand Bahama Senator Kwasi Thompson attended the event, which aims to establish an electronic databank and get people in contact with employers.
There were representatives of some 12 organisations and companies at the event.
Among them were officials from the Freeport Container Port, Grand Bahama Shipyard, Grand Bahama Airport Company, National Workers Credit Union, University of the Bahamas, Baha Mar, Rev/Aliv, Freeport Ship Services, Pelican Bay Resort, Pineyard Technical Centre, Candid Security and Global Tech.
Mr Foulkes walked about the park and spoke with some of the job seekers.
“We know there is an unemployment problem here and this event was well publicised, and we gave flyers to each MP to give out in their districts,” he said.
“The main thing about this is the databank; we have a central databank we paid a lot for, and we set up a desk to assist persons in creating an email. Some are getting an email for the first time in their life - they will be in our system forever.”
Mr Foulkes said the Department of Labour through the databank would be able to assist employers seeking individuals for specific job positions at their businesses and keep a record of those that are unemployed.
“If an employer is looking for a clerk or receptionist of a particular age, the candidates will immediately pop up in the databank, and we can we send them out to that particular business,” he explained.
Grand Bahama’s unemployment rate stands at 12.1 per cent, down from 12.5 per cent. Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis recently said that while there was a slight decline in the figure, many are still unemployed on the island, however he believes the unemployment figures are trending in the right direction.
Mr Thompson was pleased with the turnout on Saturday and expected that some persons would be hired at the end of the day.
“I am extremely happy with the turnout today. There are hundreds of people out here which speaks to a couple of things: it speaks to people’s hope that there are some positive things that are going to happen in GB. It does also, though, speak to the fact there are still too many people unemployed,” he said.
Mr Thompson believes the initiative is necessary for Grand Bahama.
“I congratulate the minister of labour for this important initiative, and I am hopeful that out of today’s event ... we see some positive effects,” he said.
Another job fair is scheduled for Saturday, February 24 in New Providence at the Golden Gates Park, opposite Golden Gates Assembly Church, Carmichael Road from 11am to 3pm.
Previous job fairs were held in Bain and Grants Town and the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.