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1,644 work permits granted in 120 days - Ministry of Labour and Social Security defends process as unions cry foul

Published:Sunday | April 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Work permits approved between January 1 and April 20.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security has granted 1,644 work permits to foreigners in the first four months of this year while rejecting one application, but it has still rejected claims that it has been too free in the approval process.

With two of island's main trade unions expressing concern that the ministry is granting foreigners work permits for jobs that qualified Jamaicans could fill, Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson told The Sunday Gleaner that the work permit application process is very stringent and comprehensive.

"In fact, the ministry often gets complaints that the system is too strict. The documentation requested on the organisation, whether public or private, making the application and on the individual foreign national is extensive," said Robinson in an emailed response to our news team.

"Additional investigations, including site visits, where necessary, are also carried out prior to the grant of a work permit and after the grant of the work permit as well.

"The ministry is taking steps to improve business processes, efficiency and productivity within the Work Permit Unit. This is part of the thrust to modernise and transform critical areas of the ministry in keeping with the public sector transformation policy imperatives of the Government, and in support of economic growth and job creation," added Robinson.

The labour ministry was responding to a call from president of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, Kavan Gayle, for a review of the Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens (Employment) Act.

"We want to see a review of the legislation that deals with the foreign nationals and a policy that determines the percentage between the local and the foreign nationals in relation to the ratio," said Gayle.

That concern is shared by head of the National Workers' Union, Granville Valentine, who told our news team that the method of granting work permits needs to be scrutinised with a view of strengthening it and ensuring that jobs in Jamaica are protected first and foremost for Jamaicans.

"The system is too loose and too easy," charged Valentine.

"What we have noticed is that the arrangement, as it relates not only to Chinese but also other expatriate groups, their labour rules are different from the Jamaican investors. The Jamaican contractors have to strictly adhere to the labour laws of Jamaica," added Valentine, as he underscored the often-repeated call by the trade unions for the ratio of workers on each project to be at a higher level for the home country.

But Robinson said while investors are not allocated any strict ratios as it relates to workers, the needs of "local and foreign investors, through consultations and the availability of local skills, determine what ratio, if any, can be applied to the workforce".

According to Robinson, while the labour ministry does not participate in the negotiation of private contractual arrangements it uses its relevant departments, to enforce the labour laws and seeks to protect core labour standards.

Between January 1 and April 20, the labour ministry approved 1,022 requests for new work permits and renewed a further 622.