Trade Unionist Chester Hughes has spoken out against the decision of the Labour Department to grant amnesty to undocumented non-nationals who are illegally employed by local business owners or are undocumented, self-employed professionals.
Hughes, the Deputy General Secretary of the Antigua Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) told OBSERVER media that undocumented members of society have been given enough time and opportunities to comply with the Labour Code, considering that there have been several amnesty programmes for them, particularly in the past two and a half years.
“I believe that government must say once and for all that this is final and for anyone in violation there is no sort of remorse…go straight to the issue,” he said.
He added, “We have given everybody an opportunity to clean their slates and to make amends with the state and having made amends those who fail to are ‘purpose’ and because you are ‘purpose’ that means you have no intention to respect the laws of A&B one way or another.”
Hughes revealed that there are likely no mechanisms in place to stop violations of these laws as the reasons for granting amnesty provided to the public are always recurring.
“We’ve done it for persons who have not paid any dues and paid any work permit fees, we’ve done it for persons who have not paid their immigration status. Who are the next set of people that we are going to grant amnesty to? It has to stop somewhere,” Hughes said.
The trade unionist has also beckoned the authorities to examine the length of time between amnesty-periods citing that proper research and consultation with the society must be done before granting amnesty for the illegal workers and residents.
“We can’t continue to behave as if we’re a free-for-all society and if we continue along that way we’re going to have problems down the road; because every single year government is going to be asked to grant an amnesty,” Hughes said.
He said there’s also a more serious issue of labour violations by business owners who are often fully aware of the employees’ immigration status and use this to underpay the workers.
“That is where the law should come down, on the employers because they know the law and they have a responsibility to keep the law as much as the employee has to keep the law,” Hughes told OBSERVER media.
He added, “No worker can get a job without the employer granting them the job; and they have the responsibility to ensure the employee pays the work permit fees and the necessary forms are signed…these kinds of things [ultimately] undercut our labour standards in Antigua and Barbuda.”
(More in today’s Daily Observer)