By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government’s push to tackle unemployment and crack down on immigration issues must factor in scrutiny of work permit approvals, Department of Labour Director John Pinder said yesterday.
According to Mr Pinder, more than 40,000 work permits have been granted in the country; he thinks that number should be cut in half to really put a dent in unemployment figures. He also said officials have been finding that work permit applicants are not being completely truthful about the roles labourers are taking.
Mr Pinder said in his two years as director of the department, he has not approved any labour certificates for Haitian cooks. But officials have observed many Haitian nationals cooking in restaurants, he said.
Mr Pinder told The Tribune the majority of certificates have been given for gardening, handymen and similar jobs.
Of every 100 work permits up for approval, the director said maybe 10 are for a business whereas the remaining 90 percent are for individuals, leading him to question the prevalence of Haitian cooks.
He was contacted a day after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told Parliament that Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson was instructed to form a “strike force”, which will aggressively pursue undocumented migrants in the country.
Meanwhile, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said the prime minister appeared to continue his “campaigning” posture. He said despite Dr Minnis repeatedly making similar comments, no one could place a finger on actions that have ensued.
Dr Minnis also said foreigners granted work permits would be replaced where it was found Bahamian understudies had not been trained to take over those roles.
Asked to explain how much of an issue this has been, Mr Pinder said: “(It is) not that great of an issue, but it is a great concern in terms of the work permit keeps being renewed and if a person is not given an extension then that organisation wants to bring a new person in.
“To me if we really are going to put a dent in this unemployment rate we have to look at the 40,000 plus work permits that are out there. I believe we could really cut that in half.
“At some point we are able to cut this unemployment rate down a bit in addition to the new initiatives that the government has on the drawing board with foreign investors. I think it can come down by at least six or seven percent, I support that.
“People think that the government has to create 20,000 or 30,000 new jobs (but) there are jobs there.”
He continued: “I can also tell you this, my biggest concern is the amount of Haitians that we give work permits to. I can tell you that is a concern I have.
“…First of all the employer only wants to pay minimum wage and $210 is big money to a Haitian. They have no problem with that.
“They normally apply for handymen, gardeners and jobs they figure they know the Bahamian will not accept for $210 a week and it’s quite a bit of them.
“But I also say I know there are a number of Haitians who work in kitchens around restaurants in the Bahamas. I have never, and I have been in the chair almost two years now, I have never approved a cook for a labour certificate, so I don’t know how they could be cooking in these kitchens around the place.
“Whenever they come here for a labour certificate it is for gardening (and) handymen, those sorts of things. They don’t ever ask for one for a cook. I have never for two years had an application come for a Haitian cook.
“They are applying for handymen and end up on Arawak Cay or wherever else cooking.”
Regarding how the government will deal with the issue of understudies for work permit holders, the matter has now gone before the National Tripartite Council after the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce expressed concern over how the process will work.
Last month, Mr Pinder said he wanted employers’ work permits revoked if they failed to appoint and properly train apprentices.
Mr Pinder said he believed the chamber had got the “wrong impression”.
“They got the impression that I as director of labour was trying to suggest that every work permit is supposed to have an understudy. That’s not the case. The application form asks you if you have an understudy.
“When you name the understudy is when we go after you and say ‘Okay you named someone we want to see the understudy programme. What have you put in place for this person to receive the training?’
“This is not nothing new,” he also said. “This is something that has been in place but we have not been transparent with it. We ask you if you name an understudy who is it? We are now following up with the understudy just to prove if the person is receiving the training to replace persons.”
He said at this point the Tripartite Council has the issue on its agenda and has committed a subcommittee to do a fact-finding report.
“Most of the ground work has already been done. It’s just a matter of looking at it, critiquing it and determining that it’s something that we can live with.
“We keep talking about brain drain because our students who go overseas to study don’t come back home because they can’t find gainful employment or they can’t find nothing to match their discipline.
“I have no problem with cross-training because there are a number of Bahamians in other parts of the world who are cross-training for key positions. But I am saying when you want to hold a key position in the Bahamas and there is a Bahamian who can hold that position then I think the Bahamian ought to be given the position,” Mr Pinder said yesterday.