Baker’s Bay, a development on Guana Cay, Abaco, which was extensively damaged in Hurricane Dorian, is defending its decision to bring in 135 Mexican workers to assist with Hurricane Dorian recovery and reconstruction, noting a “critical” need for “a large scale specialized” workforce in a short timeframe.
Its comments came after public concern was raised regarding its decision to employ foreigners at a time when many Abaco residents are still jobless in the wake of the deadly Category 5 storm and thousands of other Bahamians are without work due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Baker’s Bay noted that it faces a recovery and reconstruction cost in excess of $400 million over the next three years.
“It is vital that we reopen Baker’s Bay in the shortest time possible for many reasons, chief among which is re-establishing the employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for thousands of Abaconians, helping Bahamians overcome the challenges of Hurricane Dorian and now COVID-19, as well as fostering a sense of normalcy and well-being back into the lives of Abaconians and residents alike,” Baker’s Bay said in a statement.
“A critical element in the recovery efforts at Baker’s Bay is the availability of a specialized reconstruction workforce to complete our ambitious restoration and reopening goals.
“Given the increase in demand for construction services in both Abaco and Grand Bahama as a result of the damage sustained by Hurricane Dorian, the availability of a large scale specialized workforce to restore and reopen the property in the shortest timeframe is critical.
“As such, Baker’s Bay has sought and received approval for our 135 Mexican national construction work team — the global workforce (GWF) — who will supplement our existing robust and ongoing, primarily Bahamian labor driven construction efforts that includes some 420 Bahamian professionals.”
Baker’s Bay said that by bringing in the Mexicans, it has significantly increased its probability for achieving recovery and reopening goals as they specialize in the recovery and reconstruction of hurricane-ravaged communities and particularly private club communities such as Baker’s Bay.
Baker’s Bay noted that the same team was “the catalyst in recovery and rebuilding efforts” at its sister property in Mexico after Hurricane Odile in 2015.
It said the 135 short-term work permit holders will assist with rebuilding its Abaco location between July 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020.
“As of 1 July, and prior to the arrival of the global workforce, Baker’s Bay employed approximately 420 Bahamian construction workers and 60 expats workers,” the statement read.
“We anticipate increasing employment of Bahamian construction workers at a rate of approximately 50 new workers weekly as a direct result of the global workforce’s efforts. Importantly, the global workforce will work alongside an increasing number of their fellow Bahamian workmates to complete all work.
“Supervisors and skilled workers will be transferring significant knowledge and skills to apprentices as a part of the daily efforts. We anticipate a peak total workforce in excess of 1,500 employees.”
The statement added that the Mexicans entered The Bahamas last week after they presented the relevant credentials — including negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test results — to authorities at Lynden Pindling International Airport, as required by the government.
On Friday, Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson said Baker’s Bay had initially requested 500 work permits.
“However, based on the government’s labor mandate to ensure that Bahamians be given priority for any and all job opportunities and that Bahamians also make up the vast majority of the onsite labor force, that request was refused and instead 135 work permits were granted,” Johnson said.
“All work permit applicants are to facilitate technical works, whose skill sets would also be shared with the Bahamian workforce. The vision of the developer is to bring the project back to a global standard and it is their goal to have up to 1,400 persons employed with the vast majority of whom being Bahamians.”
Baker’s Bay said as it has done in the previous 15 years, “our development will continue to utilize as any qualified Bahamian construction workers as are available at the given time”.
“In those 15 years, we estimate our overall economic impact to the Bahamian people and the Bahamian economy to be in excess of $570 million with an average of 1,200 persons employed annually during the last 10 years,” the statement read.
“Opportunities at Baker’s Bay, particularly construction related, have led to the creation of at least 45-plus new small to medium sized Bahamian businesses, at least 50 percent of which are still operational today. Our goal is to return to that level of average annual economic impact in the shortest timeframe possible.”