'Bahamians should get first preference' says Turnquest
By GENEA NOEL
Freeport News Reporter
Bahamians should be given first preference for job opportunities as employers often try to justify the employment terms and wages of undocumented workers, said Peter Turnquest President of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce (GBCC).
Turnquest was one of the featured speakers at a recent Department of Immigration seminar and brought remarks on the department's pivotal role in the economy.
The head of the business community noted that the Immigration Department has to ensure that wherever possible Bahamians are given the "first crack at the wheel" of economic opportunity and that those that are imported or come illegally, bring a particular skill that can be transferred or will help to build the overall complement of goods and services the country has to offer.
Some employers, Turnquest said, claim that undocumented workers have a lower quality of work, mostly because of language problems, and lack of trust or the wage paid here is favourable in comparison to that of their home country, ignoring the higher cost of living.
"In spite of this open and latent discrimination however, the majority of the immigrants often have a take-home-pay three to six times above what they could earn in their country of origin thus they are prepared to accept the given standards and continue to come."
While the immigration department has a role to play, Turnquest said that it is equally important for the Labour Department to ensure that all country standards for work and safety are maintained to ensure a level playing field for Bahamians, who may be qualified to undertake some of these roles but are not yet willing to sacrifice work standards to achieve them.
He pointed out that in order to avoid discrimination and other employment complications, some immigrants are self-employed or establish small businesses of their own. "Although a large proportion of their clientele are other immigrants, self-employment is conditioned upon the ability to communicate in English and contributes significantly to their social integration and to the economy."
At the same time, Turnquest noted that the development of ethnic restaurants, clubs and shops, contribute to breaking barriers of ignorance and indifference about life and work in other countries and increase choice and diversity in the host society.
Irrespective of the large number of undocumented workers, certain sectors, such as the agricultural sector and the construction industry, have repeatedly asked the government not to reduce the number of immigrants, but to increase it further to meet demands for seasonal labour and keep marginal firms in business particularly in the farming industry, Turnquest said.
"The shortages of unskilled farm labour in the Bahamas for instance, due to increased school attendance, migration from the islands to the city centres resulting in aging island populations and support in keeping younger members in education or even unemployed rather than letting them undertake low status employment has created and sustained this call,' Turnquest said.
"New labour force entrants aspire now to more 'dignified' jobs than that of the construction worker or farmer such as in the hotels, restaurants, and entertainment or recreation industries. It is therefore felt that immigration could help in alleviating this labour shortage by being more open to this type of work permit application thereby facilitating our vital underdeveloped agricultural sector in particular."
Nevertheless Turnquest believes that through a modern and deliberate immigration policy, Grand Bahama can reach three main goals: The development of a knowledge economy through the recruitment of top notched science and technology research and developers; the sustained growth of a diverse and multi-cultural and the Creation of a diverse and multi-ethnic society which can be marketed to specific groups and provide a unique selling point in our Bahamian and Caribbean context.
" It is clear that Grand Bahama's future depends on the world knowing that we're open for business and that we are a society open to legal migration and international business. Being a community of 50,000 +, we have had great difficulty in sustaining ourselves and seeing any reasonable economic growth on our own and I would argue that we need a population of over 250,000 to realize our full potential as an independent city and to self-generate economic activity."
Turnquest urged Bahamians to welcome legal immigrants from various countries and aggressively market Grand Bahama as an open state, ripe for development and creativity.
"The key for us is to not get bogged down in the negatives of illegal immigration but to look forward to the tremendous benefits that can be accrued for a deliberate program to recruit an underrepresented sector providing alternative revenue streams to the government and peoples of these islands," Turnquest said.
He thanked the Immigration department for their efforts in providing the many levels of protection and said that they must see their roles not only as enforcers of the law but facilitators and reformers of it with a focus on the overall development objective.
"No longer can we have investors and potential investors complaining of poor and uncertain treatment or arbitrary application of policy. The rules and regulations must be clear, efficient, reflective of the modern and global nature of communications and business and finally accommodating."
© 2010 The Freeport News