By Peter Espeut
Derrick Kellier, minister of labour, has all but admitted that the Chinese have been boxing bread out of the mouths of Jamaican workers. Or rather, the blame really lies with the Jamaican Government, which has agreed to these arrangements, despite promising jobs, jobs, jobs.
According to Kellier, as reported in yesterday's Gleaner, for the period April 2012 to July 2013, his ministry issued 4,098 work permits. Of that number, 1,741 (43 per cent) were given to Chinese nationals. And that is only over a 15-month period.
In explaining why this quite large number of jobs in Jamaica was given to Chinese workers, Minister Kellier said: "This is indicative of the level of Chinese investment in the country at this time." Minister Kellier is establishing that the more the Chinese invest in Jamaica, the more thousands of jobs will go to Chinese workers. This is what we can expect with the proposed Chinese logistics hub.
I would have expected Minister Kellier to lament the large number of Chinese work permits in these terms: "This is indicative of the low levels of technical skills in the Jamaican workforce. I would like to reject these applications on the grounds that we have skilled Jamaican workers to take up these jobs. I call upon my colleague minister to train more Jamaicans so that by 2014 we can benefit from the new jobs which we expect to open up. Foreign investment should not mean foreign jobs."
But no! Increasing Chinese investment in Jamaica means increasing Chinese workers in Jamaica. In the context of high unemployment, the vast majority of the jobs, jobs, jobs will go to Chinese workers. I wish the Government would stop fooling the people with lies and empty promises.
work permit framework
It is my understanding that no work permit may be issued by the Ministry of Labour unless and until the prospective employer proves that there is no qualified Jamaican who can fill the vacancy. The employer must advertise the post in the newspapers, and then report to the Ministry of Labour that no applications - or no suitable applications were received.
I cannot recall - nor can friends of mine who watch these things - any advertisements in the press over that 15-month period inviting applications for jobs on the Palisadoes Shoreline Protection Project, the reconstruction of the Rio Grande Bridge and the Westmoreland Bridge across the Wag Water River, or the north-south leg of Highway 2000 - all Chinese projects. Even those sweeping the place were Chinese.
Can Minister Kellier tell us what proof was submitted by the Chinese contractors that no suitable Jamaican workers were available to fill those 1,741 jobs he gave to Chinese nationals? Is the Ministry of Labour shackled by the labour laws of this country, or is there an understanding that once foreigners make investments in Jamaica, they may hire foreign workers of their choice? If the latter is true to any extent, the Government is guilty of boxing bread out of the mouths of Jamaican workers.
There is another consideration. I know for a fact that there are many foreigners working in Jamaica without work permits. The many I know personally have been granted exemptions from needing work permits. I ask Minister Kellier: How many exemptions from work permits did you give to Chinese workers between April 2012 and July 2013? We want the whole story, Mr Kellier!
If we are going to destroy any of our natural heritage to facilitate this Chinese logistics hub, let Jamaicans get the jobs that are created thereby. Even PNP party hacks must agree with this sentiment.
I am tired of government lies, and partisan political lies: loud statements of commitment to sustainable development, and then what we get is unsustainable; promises of transparency in the award of waivers and contracts, but much remains cloaked in secrecy.
But there are at least two honest men in Parliament. Damian Crawford has come out openly saying that he does not believe in environmental protected areas, even though government policy and his party manifesto advocate them. His views are backward and scientifically illiterate, but at least he is honest. There are many on the government and opposition benches who share his views, but pretend otherwise.
And then Everald Warmington has told us environmentalists, "Go to hell!" He has no manners and is ignorant about so much, but at least he honestly speaks his mind. There are so many politicians who smile up with us, but cuss us behind our backs.
The Government is giving us a six for a nine over this logistics hub project. We must have the information we need to properly assess it.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to email@example.com.