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Govt. ‘abdicated responsibility’ for road works

Prominent defense attorney Wayne Munroe says the government has “abdicated their responsibility” and failed impose minimum standards for foreign contractors that hire Bahamian workers.

While the comments from Munroe are particularly targeted at Jose Cartellone Construccciones Civiles (JCCC), the Argentinian firm spearheaded the controversial road works project in Nassau, the DNA candidate for Mount Moriah told Guardian Business there is a legacy of poor oversight and management of major employers in this country.

“Labor laws here aren’t very strong,” he said.

“You have workers who are unorganized and disadvantaged. The government needs to make sure the laws that impose minimum standards are imposed. The government has abdicated their responsibility. if you’re going to act like that, you might as well retire the police force.”

Munroe said it is often common practical for contractors to keep what they pay workers a secret so other companies don’t entice laborers away. He understands that from a business competition point of view.

But it is the Ministry of Labor that is nevertheless responsible for minimum standards – and it’s their job to demand that information, he added.

“The government had admitted they are not satisfied with the road works,” Munroe felt. “But nobody was paying attention to what they [JCCC] was doing.”

His position, along with that of the DNA, it not against foreign labor or foreign corporate entities.

Instead, the issue is “if you’re coming into this country to do work, the Ministry of Labor needs to have better oversight”.

Laws and customs vary greatly depending on where you come from, he explained, forcing the government to defend the rights of Bahamians. Greater scrutiny must be placed on companies when they set up shop.

He pointed out that the FNM’s handling of JCCC and road works in downtown Nassau is not necessarily specific to the party.

He felt no government has a particularly good record of such scrutiny, calling the system a “wild, wild west”.

The solution would be a simple program whereby foreign entities are monitored when the start and irregular checks are administers for at least two years thereafter.

“You don’t go to their office every week,” he said, “because you need surprise inspections.”

In the case of JCCC, Munroe expressed frustration that an Argentinian firm was brought in for the work. While he felt foreign entities are often helpful for different projects, he failed to see the logic in hiring Argentinians in this instance, particular when the work is meant to provide stimulus to the local economy.

He made referred to the Cable Beach road works over at Baha Mar and how successful the Bahamians firms were in bringing the rerouted West Bay Street to fruition.

“It’s one thing that I can’t work out why they didn’t police them, but I also can’t work out the thinking that you stimulate the economy by engaging giant contracts with foreign companies for work of this nature. I haven’t heard an adequate explanation for that.” Munroe said.

Last week, the attorney pledged during a press conference he will be filing legal action against JCCC on behalf of Bahamian workers engaged with the company. He told Guardian Business he remains “fair confident about it and they are still collecting information”.

Among the accusations made by Munroe is the failure to pay appropriate overtime to workers.

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