By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamian Contractors Association's (BCA) chief yesterday blasted as "hogwash" the Government's finding that The Pointe is not in breach of its Heads of Agreement on labour ratios.
Leonard Sands, the BCA's president, rejected "outright" both China Construction America's (CCA) explanation for the ratio of Bahamian versus non-Bahamian workers currently at the site, and the notion that qualified Bahamians cannot be found to perform the work.
Responding to the Ministry of Labour's assessment, he challenged the Government to "stop letting people tell you what we can't do".
Ministry of Labour officials met with Daniel Liu, The Pointe's president, his vice-president and legal counsel on Wednesday to discuss a report that found the ratio of workers at the downtown Nassau development was currently 75 per cent/25 per cent in favour of Chinese employees. The Heads of Agreement calls for a 70/30 split in favour of Bahamians, meaning the ratio has been reversed.
The Ministry of Labour, in a statement issued yesterday, said: "A report produced by the Department of Labour, with respect to the composition of the workforce at the project, was presented for review and response. The report reveals that there are 73 non-Bahamian workers and 24 Bahamians presently on site.
"The Heads of Agreement calls for a 70 per cent Bahamian, and 30 per cent non-Bahamian, workforce composition," it acknowledged. "The explanation noted is that the present stage of construction, representing the second phase of The Pointe development, is the erection of the superstructure.
"This requires specialised post-tension concrete structure workers to complete this phase in a very short timeframe. Qualified Bahamians have been, and continue to be, sought. In the following phases substantially more Bahamian workers and contractors will be engaged in order to comply with the overall 70 per cent Bahamian, and 30 per cent non-Bahamian, workforce composition."
Mr Sands responded: "I think all of that is fancy words to distract us from the fact that, if the terms of the agreement said a 70 per cent Bahamian workforce and 30 per cent non-Bahamian, and did not expressly say when that ratio needed to be on that site, then that is hogwash.
"I also want to challenge and argue against the notion that the work they are doing is beyond the capabilities of a large amount of the workforce in the Bahamas, who do that work every day."
The BCA president added: "I challenge it, and submit that that work is well within the ambit and skills possessed by many of the highly-qualified, high rise construction professionals who work for similarly large construction companies in the Bahamas doing that work.
"I would like them to back away from the position that this highly technical work can only be done by this foreign workforce at the pace and capacity they are currently doing it. I do not accept it. I reject it outright. They're wrong about what they say we can't do. The Government needs to stop letting people say what we can't do when the people who are professionals in the industry do this kind of thing all the time."
Earlier this week, Mr Sands suggested the Government should renegotiate The Pointe deal if the developer has not met the $200 million project's prescribed ratio of Bahamian labour. The Heads of Agreement for the Pointe, tabled in Parliament last year, granted CCA between 400-500 work permits for the $200 million development.
The deal, dated June 18, 2015, stipulated that Bahamians would comprise 70 per cent of the total construction workforce, once those employed by local sub-contractors were included in the calculation. Bahamian sub-contractors were supposed to receive "approximately 40 per cent of development work.... in various classifications", although these were not listed.
The Ministry of Labour yesterday said The Pointe's construction is scheduled to be completed in the 2020 second quarter. "With factors related to the technical aspects of the present construction phase, and the expected long-term build up of Bahamian workers, the Ministry of Labour has concluded that the Pointe Development is not in breach of the Heads of Agreement," it added.
"The British Colonial Hotel complex also owned by the developer of The Pointe has two non-Bahamian workers and 275 Bahamian employees. Upon completion, the Pointe Development will boast 500 full-time Bahamian workers. The Ministry of Labour and, by extension, the Department of Labour, remains committed to employment and contractual opportunities for Bahamians."