The director of labor is loudly proposing a policy to provide for the revocation of work permits issued by the director or minister responsible for immigration to foreign employees whose employers cannot demonstrate that a Bahamian apprentice has been appointed to understudy and train for the post.
Such a policy is anathema to responsible, trust-worthy governance. As suggested by a letter writer in today’s paper, it is thoughtless and damaging advice.
The director’s recommended policy is a failed one introduced by the first PLP government in the first iteration of a Bahamianization policy.
The goals of the policy were noble.
As a sister to the policy, the government facilitated the training of increased numbers of Bahamians and introduced hefty work permit fees.
Training through the government was provided in a two pronged manner. Firstly, the government awarded in-service training awards to individuals in government service to fill professional and skilled posts in the public sector overwhelmingly filled by expatriate staff prior to 1967.
Secondly, the government granted scholarships for Bahamians to pursue tertiary, professional and technical level education and training internationally.
Also, private sector businesses were required to engage Bahamians to understudy work permit holders.
These policies failed to win the desired results.
The government, faced with its inability to even staff the public service with suitably qualified Bahamians — civil engineers, lawyers, architects, teachers, doctors and nurses, for example — relented and introduced another policy.
This one stipulated that foreigners could only be granted three work permit contracts for a maximum of nine years following upon which they would be required to depart the country.
At the outset, this created havoc in the government-operated school system.
In some other sectors of the public service, some qualified Bahamians – many educated at the expense of the public purse – demanded the ability to work privately in addition to their public service jobs (doctors, engineers and others), to fulfill their desires of wealth creation.
In the meantime, the time and quality of public service rendered to the Bahamian people declined.
In the private sector, this work permit policy led to the practice of the foreign companies being required to engage unsuitable Bahamians to serve in positions in name only while the real work was done by a work permit holder or by individuals engaged at head offices abroad.
This contributed to the increased cost of doing business in The Bahamas.
For many years now slow growth in the economy has been laid, in part, at the feet of obstacles to the “ease of doing business” in the country.
The director of labor’s advice is astounding and especially retrogressive at a time when the government is seeking to overcome new economic challenges posed by the fallout of Hurricane Dorian in what was already a slow growth, high unemployment economy.
We suggest that the director confine himself to implementing declared government policy and leave the determination of good public policy to the political directorate.
He might further occupy himself with what is an important responsibility of directors of labor, which is to provide regular, accurate information to the government, to national tertiary, technical and vocational education institutions and to scholarship granting agencies, both public and private, on professions and trades where qualified, trained Bahamians are scarcely represented in the labor pool resulting in the recruitment and engagement of foreign skilled labor.
We also suggest that the government would be well advised to reject the advice of its director of labor and not return to a tried, tested and failed policy of under-studies.
In short, the government would be well advised not to do stupid things.