T&T job magnet - Jamaicans drawn to employment opportunities in twin-island republic
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Trinidad and Tobago - the twin-island republic in the eastern Caribbean - is truly the great Caribbean lure for Jamaican job seekers, and the signs are there for all to see.
And it appears that Jamaican workers, some without work permits, are being welcomed with open arms by many employers, despite pronouncements from some Trinidadians in high places.
The availability of jobs in some sectors in T&T, albeit at the lower income levels, has rendered the twin-island republic a great lure for Jamaicans as well as nationals of other CARICOM states.
As Jamaica wrestles with an unemployment rate of 16 per cent in an ailing economy, the unemployment rate of its Caribbean neighbour stands at an enviable four per cent, and many of its nationals are not interested in the numerous low-paying jobs that are available.
"Almost full employment," declared David Frazer, a veteran journalist in T&T.
"The general lure to Trinidad is employment opportunities at the lower levels or the lower- wage jobs, which Trinidadians find it difficult to accept," Frazer told The Gleaner during the newspaper's visit to Port-of-Spain last week.
"So it is not that the Jamaicans are coming and finding it difficult to get jobs."
T&T's National Security Minister Gary Griffith has said that 17,000 undocumented Jamaicans are in the country, but while Frazer agreed with the number, he suggested that these Jamaicans were serving a useful purpose.
"Trinidadians look for higher-end benefits based on tertiary-level enrolment," said Frazer. "In fact, employers in Trinidad and Tobago are left with little or no alternative but to hire them (Jamaicans) as our nationals are just not taking up these jobs."
Frazer suggested that Trinidad also had a very strong welfare structure to assist the unemployed. "So unemployment is not a major issue," he explained.
It is an open secret that Jamaicans are in demand in T&T. The sentiments that Jamaicans are among the hardest workers in the country were echoed by others, including journalist Sieudath Persad.
They gushed that Jamaicans worked best - not even taking a holiday when they are on the job - a far cry from many Trinidadians on that country's industrial radar.
The telltale signs of a country urgently in need of workers are plastered on the doors and windows of many stores, fast-food outlets, and other business establishments. On the heavily commercialised Frederick Street in the heart of Port-of-Spain, T&T's capital, at a store called Shoe Land, a sign stated: "Experienced Supervisor wanted".
Metres away, three signs were posted on the walls of the Trincity Mall advertising vacancies for sales clerks, male workers, and administrative workers.
The popular KFC fast-food outlet nearby was not to be left out of the clamour for workers. The employment-offer posters were just about everywhere.
But what is even more wonderful for some Jamaicans is that despite the less-than-welcoming tones of some public officials and even Government members, other Trinidadian are welcoming.
"Jamaicans need jobs, and Trinidadian employers love having them around."
That is the often repeated sentiment of the people on the ground.
Persad charged that some government policies had spoilt T&T workers by establishing jobs in special projects and community-enhancing work in which they earn big bucks over short periods.
He told The Gleaner that construction workers in Trinidad are not willing to take a pay cut after the construction boom a few years ago.
According to Persad, Jamaicans harbour no such lofty expectations.
"To be frank, Jamaican workers are not problematic. By and large, Jamaican workers are good," said Persad. "And there has been no issue with criminality," he added.
To this end, Frazer warned that T&T needed to pay closer attention to its employment issues.
He said critical areas such as administrative staff, security officers, solid waste, and waste-removal industry (garbage men) workers, as well as fast-food outlets and manufacturing operations need access to a cadre of younger workers who are not in high supply in Trinidad.
Frazer, who has experience in T&T's governance systems, stressed that the disincentive is that because Jamaicans will do the jobs, it doesn't place pressure on wages because there is an available source of labour.