Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Gov't urged to press CARICOM on free movement of workers

Published:Thursday | June 15, 2017 | 6:00 AMJovan Johnson
Mikael Phillips

Weeks away from the annual meeting of CARICOM heads, one Jamaican legislator has made it clear that the Government here must insist that its regional counterparts amend their laws to facilitate free movement of workers or threaten them with protectionist policies.

Yesterday, officials from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security complained to Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee that while Jamaica has taken steps to make it easier for CARICOM nationals with skills certificates to work in Jamaica, other countries are refusing to do so.

Artistes, musicians, university graduates, media workers, medical and sports persons were the first groups of persons allowed to use their regional skills certificate and travel freely to work in any of the 12 nations that are members of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

 

States slow to make changes

 

The categories have now grown to 10, but Lisa Grant, the director of permits in the ministry, said that most CARICOM states have not made the changes to their laws to accommodate the additional five categories, which comprise teachers, nurses, artisans, domestic workers, and holders of diplomas or associate degrees.

"You find that our nationals, if they have moved, for example, with a skills certificate as a domestic worker to, say, a member state such as Trinidad or Barbados, because they have not amended their legislation to recognise that category, unfortunately, our nationals are challenged. They have to get what we refer to across the region as an extension of stay," she said.

"Even when our (Jamaica) laws were not yet amended, in the spirit of CARICOM, we, administratively, allowed the additional five categories. Unfortunately, we are still challenged by the fact that other member states don't quite see things the way we see it."

Grant said that the ministry has raised the issue with the Kamina Johnson Smith-led Foreign Ministry, which has responsibility for the CSME.

... A major weakness of CARICOM

Mikael Phillips, a member of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriates Committee, said that the Government needs to pressure non-compliant CARICOM states whose laws affect free movement of workers between countries.

"These same member states that are unwilling to adjust their legislation, you have employers down there who are encouraging Jamaicans to come down there for cheap labour, to pay them little and nothing. If they have the certificate, they would have to pay them a higher wage," he argued.

"As a country, we have to somewhat protect our own nationals in applying pressure on these member states to either adjust, or we (Jamaica) should also have a stringent entrance application."

The failure of CARICOM states to amend laws to reflect agreements has been flagged as a major weakness of the regional bloc.

The Gleaner obtained a status report document at last July's heads of government meeting in Guyana, which revealed that the majority of the member states, for years, failed to change their laws to ensure "the right (of CARICOM nationals) to work during the initial six months".

Jamaica was listed among the delinquent states.

The report helped to prompt the announcement of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy review, for which updates are expected when the leaders meet in Grenada from July 4-6.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com