With more than 3,000 jobs expected during Bahamas Port Investments Limited’s redevelopment of the Grand Lucayan resort and development of a cruise port, former Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) President Leonard Sands said he hopes the heads of agreement (HOA) signed between the company and the government is ironclad in its promotion of Bahamian workers on the project.
While the HOA has not been released to the public as yet, Lucayan Renewal Holdings Chairman Michael Scott has said the labor component as stated in the HOA is 80/20 Bahamian to foreign workers.
Pointing to the recent issues with the labor component at The Pointe, Sands said Bahamians have already seen the evidence of what happens to Bahamian workers in the construction industry “when it is not a matter of priority to ensure that Bahamians are employed on a project”.
“Let me start by saying I am happy about the announcement. I think the whole construction industry and persons in Grand Bahama are elated with the news. Now let’s take our elation and let’s ensure that this really is good for the industry and for the economy. Projects come to The Bahamas and are executed, but we have seen in the last ten years, since 2007, most of the labor has been outsourced when it comes to these large heads of agreement projects and that is a concern to everyone who is interested in making a living in this industry,” he told Guardian Business.
“Now, beyond the heads of agreement – which I hope is ironclad, which I hope comes with enforcement, which I hope they have persons who have a vested interest in seeing the heads of agreement maintained – I hope that there’s a different agenda, a different positioning of this project when it comes to being built.
“It could be a windfall for Bahamians, but if it is not managed to achieve a windfall, I think sadly it could be another situation where we sit back and say ‘wow, we lost out again’. And that could be unfortunate.”
Sands said while he believes it is the government’s intention to look out for Bahamians on such projects, it must take on measures to enforce the conditions of its agreements.
“Intention without follow through doesn’t get any results that we can all look back and be happy about. I think the government means well when it enters into these agreements, but what I’ve said from The Pointe, what I said with Baha Mar and I say again with this agreement before it goes any further, unless you put the safeguards in place to ensure the things in the heads of agreement, no one will live up to the agreement. The Pointe has in their agreement 70/30 you know, that it should have been 70 percent Bahamian you know,” he said.
“The reality was the opposite. What has happened? The project is almost complete because there was not a watchdog agency by the government, sitting on the property to ensure that every condition of the heads of agreement was maintained throughout its entirety. I am suggesting that the government learns from these past failures and puts an agency on this project that will ensure whatever the agreement is, is maintained to the letter.”
At the HOA signing ceremony on Grand Bahama on Monday, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said every HOA insists that developers employ Bahamians, where Bahamians are available.
“Generally, what happens in a project is, it starts out with a large foreign component and then as the project goes on it moves to almost 100 percent Bahamian. So, for example, you take Atlantis. Atlantis has about 8,000 employees and they probably have 80 work permits. So, 99 percent of Atlantis are Bahamians,” he said.
“Generally, that’s how projects start. You bring in your foreign trainers and managers, they get the place open, they get the place operational and then they move on to the next project; and the Bahamians you have trained and hired can take over. So, there’s always a transition period and at the end of the day 99.9 percent of employees will be Bahamian, that’s how most projects proceed. So, we’re excited about that.
“All of these ports we’re insisting that the businesses be owned by Bahamians and run by Bahamians. So even though Carnival might own the port, we want the businesses, the restaurants, stores to be owned by Bahamians, so we are owners, not just workers.”