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News Report: Private sector help needed as labor, immigration law changes mulled

Written by Chester Robards, The Nassau Guardian, May 12th, 2023

The Ministry of Labour and Immigration is asking for the help of the private sector to determine the way forward for a number of legislative changes being considered, Labor and Immigration Minister Keith Bell said yesterday during the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation’s Power Breakfast at Margaritaville resort.

Bell explained that with the crackdown on people working outside of the scope of their work permits, and the threat of diminishing labor in some sectors that the crackdown would cause, the government wants to know what course the private sector, which is affected by this activity, would want to take.

“We go on your work site and we discover persons who are there but not employed by you,” said Bell.

“Or, if you’re a company, and you have a subcontractor working on your site, doing some work for you, then I am of the firm view that you too, should also be liable. The owner and the occupier.

“And so we’re looking at making the recommendations and introducing legislation to that effect. And so we need to hear from you as to how we ought to address and deal with these very same challenges.

“We have to develop this Bahamas for all of us, and these are very real, hard facts that we have to address, we are at a crossroads in the country.”

Bell said people are often working outside the scope of their work permit in order to pay less fees.

He also said the Immigration and Labor Ministry is cracking down on companies that bring in a foreigner to work in a position that requires an understudy and never train the understudy they name on the application for the foreigner’s permit.

He said in some cases, the understudy named does not even know that they are an understudy.

“In certain high-end fields… we’re not only concerned about the low end, but the high end. The condition of the grant is that there ought to be an understudy,” said Bell.

“But in many cases, most of the understudies do not know are they supposed to be understudying the person. And, so, right now in The Bahamas, there are two things which are very emotive, crime, and of course, immigration.

“But if the understudy’s not identified and does not know, and then are subsequently sidelined, then the individual who consistently and continuously gets that work permit, after 20 work permits, they are entitled to apply for permanent residence.

“After they get permanent residence, then they can apply for citizenship.”

Bell said the government is planning to introduce a national apprenticeship program that the private sector will have to buy into and support, in order for it to be successful and produce the results intended. He explained that the program is designed for marginalized and disadvantaged groups of people.

“The highlights of the new program include a definition of the apprenticeship program, which entails a job that includes structured on-the-job training, combined with a share of related technical off-the-job training to learn a skilled occupation that is certified and recognized by the industry upon completion,” he said.

“It is important to highlight the distinctive elements of the apprenticeship. Compared to on-the-job training methods, the apprentice has a job in structured training. The apprentice training plan combines training in the workplace with a professional master and related in-class training. A written contract of employment will normally exist between the employer and the apprentice. The apprentice takes an assessment to receive a recognized certification of acquired qualifications upon completion of the apprenticeship.

“The role of the chamber of commerce not only here in New Providence, but in every family island, is critical to the success of this program.

“We are therefore relying on each of you. We will be relying on you to register with the national apprenticeship agency, pay 100 percent of the salaries of the apprentice at minimum wage, select and hire an apprentice, identify a mentor from a company who will supervise, train and counsel the apprentice when necessary; the mentor and the apprentice will together devise a training program, provide the facility and tools that may be needed, and ultimately the apprentice will be hired upon completion of his or her program.”

Bell said his ministry is working on myriad changes to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the processes at immigration, especially as it relates to work permits and their enforcement.

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