Labour Minister says industry centred work permits are not practical

Steadroy Cutie Benjamin (file photo)

The country’s Labour Minister said the opposition United Progressive Party’s (UPP) proposal for industry centred work permits for Caricom nationals is an “interesting proposition but is not at all practical”.

Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said the introduction of the structure would not be possible in a small economy like Antigua & Barbuda.

“A work permit is granted to a specific individual to work with a particular employer and that is how it pertains in all developed countries in all countries around the world,” Benjamin said during an interview with our newsroom yesterday.

Opposition Spokesman on Legal Affairs Leon Chaku Symister made the announcement at a rally in the Point and Villa community Thursday night.

He said through the industry centred approach, a Caricom national would be able to use one document for the same industry, instead of having to apply for a new permit each time they are seeking a job in the same field but with a different employer.

“If you get a work permit to work in security for a year, and three months after you get it you lose the job at that company, you would be able to go to another company with the same work permit; that is fairness,” Symister said.

General Secretary of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) Hugh Joseph also offered brief comments on the matter.

The senior labour officer explained that general work permits are issued for a vacancy which an Antiguan is not able to fill or they have simply rejected.

He said that if the process is industry centred it could spell disaster for locals – in that it would make it easier for a Caricom national to gain employment in any field.

“The work permit is for a particular period and is for a particular employer. After the period expires you then have to go back and there is an assessment to determine whether the document will be renewed or whether an Antiguan can fill the post,” Joseph said.

“If it is done as suggested there could be problems with that,” Joseph said.

During the meeting on Thursday, Political Leader of the UPP Harold Lovell also noted that work permit fees were increased earlier this year. He added that if the UPP wins the next general elections, his government would return to the previous fee structure.

“Imagine this government doubled work permit fees in the last few months. Doubled it!. The UPP will put the work permit fees where they were before,” the political leader of the opposition party said.

The new schedule of work permit fees, which came into effect on February 1, saw some categories of workers paying less while others are paying more.

The Labour Departments said the revision was to capture those categories of workers that were not catered for in the previous structure as well as to minimise estimation by officers in some regard.

In direct response to this, Minister Benjamin said the technicians in the Labour Department conducted extensive research, drawing on the expertise of local and international personnel when they made the recommended changes.

Minister Benjamin said that while there are some areas which could be looked at, he is confident that Labour Commissioner Eltonia Rojas did a thorough job.

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