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(PRESS RELEASE VIA SNO) – Dear Minister King,
During the early seventies, the Saint Lucia Government, led by the then Prime Minister successfully negotiated a soft loan that was ear marked to construct a Roll On Roll Off Port that was vital to the economic development of Saint Lucia. A foreign company called Concreto Centrifugado was awarded the contract to build the port facility.
Unfortunately the company then brought in a number of Spanish speaking workers. When it was too obvious, about thirty (30) Saint Lucian workers were also employed. The company brought in welders, carpenters, steel benders, masons, labourers, mixer operators, supervisors, equipment operators, drivers and cooks. The National Workers Union (NWU) was very instrumental in having the Saint Lucian contingent of the workforce to withdraw their labour with a demand for more Saint Lucian workers to be employed.
At the time the Prime Minister could not allow the workers action to build up and hence requested an audience with the NWU Leadership. The meeting was very fruitful coming out of which the following were agreed:
- Workers would return to work immediately.
- A Work Permit Committee would be established comprising of a broad section of the country to handle the question of workers coming to Saint Lucia to work, with a Work Permit application to be submitted prior.
- An Industrial Protocol would be set up to deal with matters affecting both sides.
It was against this background that the Hon. Clendon Mason, then Minister for Communications, Works and Labour and a former Industrial Relations Consultant in the oil belt in Curacao, was given the mandate to put the necessary legislation together so that all skilled Saint Lucian workers would get a fair opportunity when seeking employment in all sectors. Sir that worked very well.
Subsequently, the character of the Work Permit Committee was reviewed and included representation from Trade Unions, St. Lucia Employers Federation, St. Lucia Hotels Association, Small Business Association, the Immigration Department of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force and a member of the Department of Labour. The Committee was headed by a Chairperson. All requests for Work Permits had to come from companies and addressed to the Secretary of the Work Permit Committee. Everybody got what they wanted.
Sir, unfortunately, the Work Permit Committee which had Mr. Tom Walcott as its Chairman and an NWU representative in the person of Mr. George Goddard, was disbanded by the then Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony. Sir, there was no consultation. Today Saint Lucia has been witnessing an avalanche of individuals coming to our shores to undertake jobs that Saint Lucians are qualified to do.
Sometimes it becomes very difficult to track down these persons. Sometimes they team up with some individuals who learn quite a bit from them. This development is definitely a risk and can threaten our national security.
Minister, it is our view that your Government should revisit the legislation and reinstate the Work Permit Committee. Should you accede to our request, we are proposing the following:
- All Department of Labour officials along with the Immigration Department would have to be empowered to visit any plant to execute their job responsibilities.
- All Work Permit applicants should be out of Saint Lucia when an application is submitted on their behalf. They would be invited in for interviews, when the process begins.
- All Work Permits granted should be done with the clear understanding that a Saint Lucian would have to work alongside the Work Permit holder as an understudy to prepare a Saint Lucian to hold that position upon the expiration of that work permit.
- All Work Permit Applications must come from the company on behalf of the applicant.
- All applications for work permits must be published in the Gazette, the Voice or the Star Newspaper.
- Should it become necessary to have an engagement with you on the above, we would make ourselves available based on an official request.
NATIONAL WORKERS UNION