Friday, September 3, 2010

The National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas (NCTUB) endorses the multi-billion dollar Baha Mar project

Guardian Staff Reporter

Reversing its stance on the controversial Chinese labor issue surrounding the multi-billion dollar Baha Mar project, the National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas(NCTUB)yesterday endorsed the project, saying the benefits outweigh any difficulties the union had.

Initially NCTUB threatened to hold massive demonstrations if the government approved Baha Mar's bid to bring in approximately 5,000 Chinese workers the mega resort says it needs during the project's construction phase.

However, during a news conference yesterday, NCTUB President John Pinder acknowledged that The Bahamas does not have the capacity nor the skill set to construct the project without the help of foreign aid.

"After further consultations with Baha Mar officials we got all of the concerns we had addressed and we're satisfied that this project is in the best interest of this country,"he said during the news conference which was held at the Bahamas Public Service Union headquarters on Wulff Road."We are further satisfied that we do not have the skill set to do this project all on our own."

Pinder said the issue with work permits can be a serious revenue generator for the government.

"It's proposed that Baha mar may ask for as much as 5,000 work permits, but at no time will there be 5,000 Chinese workers,"Pinder said."We are told that they will maximize the use of Bahamian workers qualified to work on this project and the semi-skilled persons. We have asked that these positions be made known to us so persons could apply for various positions."

"Work permits will cost Baha Mar an average of$5,000 per work permit... we believe this is a golden opportunity for the government to raise some revenue to be able to ensure that unions are able to get some sort of increase for our membership,"he continued.

The union also hopes that the government would consider using a percentage of the $5 million it stands to bring in from work permit fees to expand and redevelop the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute(BTVI).

Pinder said the key to the union's endorsement was the assurance by Baha Mar officials that Bahamian workers will receive first preference during and after the construction, and that Baha Mar will train Bahamians in some of the more modern techniques that are currently not widely used in the country.

NCTUB Assistant General Secretary Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson said the union in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, BTVI and The College of The Bahamas would ensure that workers receive on-the-job-training.

She said the union would be working closely with Baha Mar personnel to hack out the details of the training exercise.

"Our main job is to ensure that workers receive cross training. This is a good opportunity to train our workers,"Dotson said."Every time a large project comes, we say we don't have the skilled workers. I think it's now time to put our money where our mouth is."

Dotson added that the union's initial concerns also had to do with the lack of consultation both the previous Christie administration and the current Ingraham administration had with the union on the project.

"We need to be involved more at the ground level,"she said, adding that the union will be present on the day the government brings the issue to Parliament.

Leader of Government Business in the House of Assembly Tommy Turnquest confirmed that the Ingraham administration intends to bring the labor resolution to Parliament on September 8. Turnquest said the MPs would be allowed to express their views on the labor issue before the government makes a final determination.

If a majority of MPs take issue with that component, he said the government would have to take that into consideration prior to making its decision.

Pinder said the union is hoping that the government and the official opposition will give the necessary approval for the project.

Turnquest said publicly that at the height of construction Baha Mar could have up to 8,000 foreign workers on the project.

Dotson said it would also be the union's job to protect the rights of the Chinese workers. Yesterday the union pledged to make every effort to do that if the work permits are granted.

Baha Mar has said that out of the 10,000 proposed construction jobs the project will create, at least 3,300 will be set aside for Bahamians. Eight thousand permanent jobs are also projected once the resort is completed.

The proposed Cable Beach development would be financed by the Export-Import Bank of China and constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation.

If the project receives Bahamas government approval, Baha Mar's first course of action would be to award nearly$60 million of construction contracts to six Bahamian contractors, representing early infrastructure works needed to prepare the site, Baha Mar's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sarkis Izmirlian said in a press statement last month.