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News Article: Gov’t ‘not just dictating’ over work permit policy

Published March 29th, 2023 by Neil Hartnell, Tribune Business News

The Chamber of Commerce’s labour division chair has hailed that the Government is “not just dictating” over plans to develop a national policy to govern the issuance of work permits in The Bahamas.

Peter Goudie, also a member of the National Tripartite Council, the body former to tackle all labour-related issues in The Bahamas, told Tribune Business that the Government appears open to a genuine dialogue with the private sector, trade unions and other stakeholders on the issue instead of simply saying ‘this is what will happen’.

“I think it’s great we’re having this dialogue, and it’s not just the Government dictating,” he said. “That’s all we’ve ever had. Government says, and on the follow through do whatever. Now we’ve got a conversation opened up, and I think it’s great, I really do, that we’re having a conversation as opposed to being told: ‘This is how it is’ whether we like it or not.”

Mr Goudie spoke after Keith Bell, minister of labour and Immigration, said at Friday’s annual general assembly meeting of the National Tripartite Council that the Government plans to host a roundtable discussion to formulate a national policy on the issuance of work permits win The Bahamas.

While no specific date was provided, Mr Bell said talks are expected to be held between the months of July and August 2023. The Government grants around 15,000 work permits annually, out of around 30,000 applications, of which the majority are usually for posts such as maids, gardeners, labourers and landscapers.

The minister also called for increased productivity by the Bahamian workforce, suggesting that weaknesses in this area have contributed to the number of work permits approved by the Government every year. Mr Bell called for “specific and concrete recommendations” be given for increasing productivity within the Bahamian labour force.

“Although it is not on the agenda, I am seeking your specific and concrete recommendations on increasing productivity in the workplace,” said Mr Bell. “It is something that we cannot legislate but we have to ensure that the increase in minimum wage corresponds with an increase in productivity in the workplace, especially as we move towards a livable wage.

“This is a special concern to me as the minister of labour and Immigration, and part of the reason, in some respect, why we have to issue so much work permits in this country every year. This is a matter that must be addressed sooner rather than later.”

The Bahamian private sector has long voiced concerns over what it sees as relatively low overall productivity by the workforce, and has been especially vexed at the quality - or lack thereof - of potential employees coming out of the public high school system.

Frequently voiced complaints are that many employee candidates lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, and even rudimentary socialisation that will enable them to get along with both colleagues and customers to deliver the required level of service.

Increased worker productivity, so the theory of “supply-side economics goes”, will increase output and help lower a firm’s unit costs of production, thereby making Bahamian companies more price competitive on the goods and services they sell.

A previous National Tripartite Council “white paper” outlining the rationale for Bahamian productivity legislation argues that it will ultimately boost worker incomes and living standards, while generating private sector and economic growth that leads to a more sustainable economy.

“The implementation of a productivity legislation in The Bahamas is likely to lead to highly-skilled employees who are competitive both at the regional and the global level,” the “white paper” said. “Therefore, the employees will be able to ask for higher salaries given their experience and professional mastery.

“The higher salaries will increase the disposable income available to the employees, improving their access to better medical care and enabling them to contribute towards their retirement. Additionally, the employees can choose to invest their excess income in revenue-generating projects, hence further boosting their standards of living.

“The consumers’ standards of living are likely to improve due to better employee productivity, since companies will be able to operate more efficiently, passing the benefits of lower costs of production to the consumers.”

Acknowledging that low labour productivity was “one of the major concerns of businesses in The Bahamas”, the “white paper” added: “Implementing the productivity legislation will lead to high levels of productivity in the country to the benefit of the private sector. Private companies will be able to produce more efficiently, hence lower the costs of production, and report higher profit margins.

“This is possible when you consider that a highly-skilled workforce is related to a low employee turnover in firms. The increased profit margins can be ploughed back into the business, thus contributing significantly to a thriving private sector......

“Furthermore, skilled employees are also likely to improve corporate governance, thereby leading to an accountable and transparent corporate leadership which instills trust in the private sector.”

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