The government plans to give serious consideration to applying tougher requirements for work permit applications, to provide maximum opportunity for job vacancies to be filled from within Saint Lucia.
Labour Minister Stephenson King made this disclosure during an appearance on News Maker Live on Tuesday, stating that there are many foreign nationals who continue to apply for unskilled and sometimes semi-skilled jobs that could be performed by locals.
The minister said in many instances locals are being denied the opportunity to gain employment.
King said, “In some instances there are Saint Lucians who are applying for work permits for Jamaicans and Guyanese to work for them as domestic workers. And I ask myself the question, can’t they find people in Saint Lucia?… And I wont tell you sometime what they state that they are offering those people.”
While the staff at the Department of Labour main duties are to process work permit applications, King highlighted the need for persons to do further checks and balances, to ensure that these permits are granted under proper circumstances and there is no exploitation.
The minister said given this loophole, he would therefore recommend a more thorough review of the application process for work permits, where the applicants will have to appear before a panel at the Ministry of Labour, who will then scrutinize the application and determine whether the permit should be granted.
“But it goes back to the point that I have been making to my staff at the ministry, which is, the instrument of work permits must be a tool which drive our programmes in the country to be able to build capacity in our workforce,” he explained.
It therefore means that the ministry should be able to report when there is an increase for a certain category of workers, so that the government could create special programmes to build a workforce to meet the demands.
“Work permit is a matter that cannot only be seen as a revenue generating issue, but must also be seen as…how do you measure your success with the work programme to reduce the number of applications.”
King noted that there are many Indian nationals who have been granted work permits, and not only have they adapted quickly, but in some cases they possess strong work ethics.
“Some of the problems that we encounter with our people is that of ethics, discipline, a good personality, communication skills etc. And these are the things as we look at our education system, that we must begin to question. Are we really preparing our people for the world of work or are we preparing our people to succeed an exam?”
Callers to the programme urged the minister to deal with the issue with some urgency and even recommended that the government impose higher fees for work permits being granted to foreign unskilled workers, especially when there is a workforce here for that.
Currently, Caribbean Commonwealth nationals pay EC$2,000, other Commonwealth nationals EC$7,500, and other non-nationals EC$7,500 each for annual work permits.
Unskilled persons under these categories pay EC$200 for every 12 months.