An invasion of Venezuelans labourers without work permits has been discovered at the Red House!
That’s what Urban Corporation of T&T (Udecott) chairman Noel Garcia found when he called for a full-scale investigation into migrants working as labourers on the $441 million Red House restoration project.
Garcia made the disclosure in a telephone interview yesterday, following an exclusive June T&T Guardian article which reported that contractors working on the multi-million dollar project had been retaining migrants as cheap labourers.
In 2005, Udecott assumed responsibility for the project, which began 19 years ago.
The discovery of the Venezuelan invasion prompted Garcia to call on the site’s project manager for an immediate probe into the hiring of foreign labourers by the 12 sub-contractors undertaking the job and to submit a report to its board.
A warning was also issued by Garcia to the contractors that if the Venezuelans are not in possession of work permits, the Immigration Division would be notified.
Following the week-long investigation, a report was submitted to then Housing Minister and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, under whose purview Udecott fell then. Housing Minister Edmund Dillon is now line minister for Udecott.
In giving an update on the matter yesterday, Garcia admitted that he did not realise there were so many Venezuelans and other foreigners working on the construction site without work permits.
“It was almost a mini United Nations group…from Jamaicans to Venezuelans. We even had one American. A number of them hadn’t work permits.”
The Red House has a work crew of 200.
Garcia admitted that the bulk of the migrants were Venezuelans who came here seeking jobs.
Asked how many non-nationals had secured jobs at the Port-of-Spain site without permits, Garcia said “it was quite a few. I would say over 70 workers. But they have now gone. We had to get rid of them. We are not prepared to condone the breaking of the law.
“Some of them surprised me saying that they were with Living Waters. Not because you are with Living Waters seeking refugee status it gives you, in our view, the right to work on the Red House,” Garcia said.
Those who were non-holders of work permits, Garcia said, were immediately removed from the site.
However, he refused to say if Immigration Division had been alerted about the status of the labourers.
The T&T Guardian was told that the Venezuelans were paid $250 a day as labourers, while locals were demanding $400 for a day’s work.
In some cases, the Venezuelans, some of whom were women, worked beyond their eight-hour shifts.
“So any non-national working at the Red House must have a work permit. The Venezuelans are almost everywhere. They are now on construction sites,… in bars and supermarkets,” Garcia said.
In light of this development, Garcia said Udecott had to lay down the law, making it mandatory that any contractor retained by Udecott must ensure their migrant workers have valid permits.
“These foreign workers were not hired by Udecott. I want to make that absolutely clear. In terms of terminating those workers it was not Udecott’s responsibility.”
Currently, Garcia said there are 20 Colombians, three Cubans and three Americans on the site, all of whom have work permits.
Social, economic and political upheavals, as well as hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and other supplies, have forced many Venezuelans to flee their country and look for work in neighbouring countries, including T&T, to earn money and supplies to send back home to their families.
According to the August 2017 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report, there are an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans in T&T. To date, approximately 2,000 Venezuelans have applied for asylum and the numbers are increasing, acting Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews told a Joint Select Committee of Parliament in April.