Labour Minister Errol McLeod says he is seeking to establish a foreign migrant policy in T&T to ensure locals are protected. No such policy exists right now. Afra Raymond, head of the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) for the construction industry, expressed concern over the recent Chinese investment thrust into T&T and the availability of Chinese labour. Last month, China Jiangsu International received a $500 million contract to build the University of the West Indies' Penal/Debe campus.
The JCC had some concerns about the process and how the contract was awarded. McLeod, interviewed last Monday at the ministry's office at the International Financial Complex, Port-of-Spain, said based on his information, the awarding of the contract was transparent, fair and decent. McLeod said, "They (China Jiangsu) won by coming in on a price of $300 million less, I believe, than the local contractor. "We need to look at other costs that may not be taken into consideration. For example, are they going to bring in all the labour and if that is so, then is this the kind of cost we should entertain?"
Effects of migrant labour
He said the Government has to look at the long-term social impact of migrant labour in that money earned in T&T is taken out. "The social cost of keeping people inactive while we engage Chinese labour must be examined," he said. McLeod said the process must be scrutinised. "The government accepts these foreign contracts without looking for the essential ingredient-local content." He said the ministry is committed to examining the process to ensure that locals who are willing and able to work and possess the required competencies are not adversely affected by foreign labour.
"I would be preparing a position paper that would be presented to the government for approval," McLeod said. He said it was imperative to have this policy. "We must be able to analyse the impact migrant labour is having on the local industry.
"It is good to see well-constructed buildings, but when Chinese are labourers and are seen pushing a wheelbarrow, how has that positively affected citizens of this country? "We need to have information on how many Chinese are being brought here, under what conditions, and how many of them engage in tasks that nationals could do?"