Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Jamaica could soon be given a much-needed opportunity to export labour to its CARICOM neighbour, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), in an exchange programme aimed at easing the disconcerting trade imbalance between the two countries.
Sharon Saunders, Jamaica's high commissioner to T&T, told The Gleaner she was pursuing an initiative that could allow Jamaicans to work in what is being informally referred to as a guest-worker programme.
Saunders stressed that such an effort had become necessary to address the urgent demand for workers in T&T, while Jamaica, its second-largest trading partner, had the supply to fill the void.
Jamaica's unemployment rate continues to languish at a troubling 14 per cent while T&T is, by the admission of business owners, in dire need of labour in some sectors.
Saunders' initiative has been endorsed by Trinidad's National Security Minister Gary Griffith and President of Trinidad and Tobago's Manufacturing Association (TTMA) Nicholas Loc Jack.
"I will tell you openly and on the record, I fully support that type of thing," Loc Jack told The Gleaner. "We are short of labour in T&T and you have high unemployment."
Added Loc Jack: "I have no problem taking Jamaicans and putting them to productive use so they can make a higher wage and send back money for their families."
Earlier, Saunders told The Gleaner that she met with Errol McLeod, T&T's minister of labour, small and micro enterprise development, who also signalled that he was not averse to the proposal.
According to Saunders, she informed McLeod that Jamaica's Foreign Affairs Minister A.J. Nicholson would be speaking with him about the labour-exchange proposal that she has made.
She said the proposal now on the table would involve establishing a structure of quid pro quo, with T&T absorbing some of the excess capacity of labour that Jamaica has. "T&T has a need; there is the demand here. We have the supply and there must be a way that we can work out a structured programme or arrangement that would enable Jamaican workers who are in demand and who are known to be reliable and conscientious to come and work in T&T in the various sectors without displacing any Trinidadians," said Saunders.
She said McLeod had promised to speak with the relevant Cabinet colleagues on the matter.
"Then we can take the matter further, and I think that there has to be some quid pro quo within our community because there is always supply and demand for goods, services, and labour."
The proposal seems set to have the backing of the security minister, who highlighted a case where outsiders could come in to fill vacancies in Trinidad.
According to Griffith, fellow CARICOM nation Grenada has 500 young men who are now fully trained and qualified in private security who could be employed in T&T shortly.
"I am seriously arranging for them to come here and be employed because it would help our CARICOM neighbour, and the private security industry here is short of workers," said Griffith. "It is a win-win situation, and we will continue to do that."