Individuals who require a permit from the Labour Department to work in Antigua and Barbuda, are being warned that they will be prosecuted if they are caught working without having paid for the work permit after it has been approved by the department.
Labour Commissioner Eltonia Rojas said there are a number of approved permits to be picked up from the department, and there have been instances where the people who were granted the permit had not paid for it but were already put to work by their employers.
“The fact that it hasn’t been paid for means they don’t have a work permit. People, I believe, are mistaken in thinking that because they got a call from the Labour Department and they have the bill in their possession that they actually have a work permit,” she said.
Rojas said there have been instances where, after offenders were caught, the next day they went to the Treasury to pay for the work permit. She said the Labour Department will know when an offender pays after he or she is caught because all the bills are stamped with a date.
The Labour Commissioner warned that the employers and employees will not get any reprieve even if they decide to pay for the work permit after being caught without it.
“We have found in the past that, let’s say you got picked up today the 4th of September, they run and pay the Bill the next day, but that does not fix the situation of when you were working illegally on the third … I just want to put it on record that if they are found on the workplace they will be taken off and prosecuted,” she reiterated.
Rojas said some employers are taking the risk knowingly and when the employee is caught, the employer, particularly in hairdressing establishments, asks the labour officer on duty to allow the employee to complete the work on the client.
She added, “I have given my officers instructions not to allow them to continue what they were doing because we would not become an accomplice.”
Following the exclusive interview with the Labour Commissioner yesterday, OBSERVER media reached out to several union representatives, and was able to make contact only with Chest Hughes, General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU).
Hughes said he was not happy to hear of the offence, and he urged employees and employers to obey the law.
“We are encouraging those who have not collected their permits to do so and to uphold the laws of the land of Antigua and Barbuda. We are also encouraging employers not to aid in the violation of the law. We are of the opinion that if it is for economic reasons that employees are not able to collect their work permits that employers should try and assist them and to have them conform to the law,” he said.
Under the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code, a person who is not a citizen of the country requires a permit to work. That permit is processed at the Labour Department and granted on behalf of the labour minister. An employee or employer who breaches the law can be fined or jailed.