Citing rising unemployment, which Government legislator Gline Clarke said is above nine per cent, the Deputy Speaker on Tuesday called on the Ministry of Labour to help more Barbadians find jobs overseas.
During debate on the 2020/2021 Estimates, Clarke pointed to countries like Jamaica, Mexico, and the Philippines, where he said their labour department has been proactive in finding employment for a number of people.
Noting that in 2014 several people were laid off by the previous administration, many of whom he said still have not been able to find employment, Clarke said the Labour Department must live up to its mandate of being the flagship in helping Barbadians find gainful employment.
“My view is that your department has to be at the forefront in finding employment for those persons who have been laid off,” Clarke said.
“I must tell you that your Caribbean neighbor, Jamaica, is spending this financial year, more than a million U.S. dollars in soliciting help from across the Caribbean, because they believe in remittances, which form a large part of their revenue.”
But Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Colin Jordan said while there are no Barbadians on work programmes in the United States at this time, his ministry is working to change that.
“We have a new liaison officer who has had quite some experience in that area. We have faced some challenges of immigration restrictions and approaches to immigration in the United States,” Jordan said.
“But as we engage in discussions – we have another one in about two weeks with personnel from the United States Embassy here – we’re pretty certain that there are opportunities in the United States to be had and we are vigorously pursuing those opportunities.”
Just last week, the Donald Trump administration listed Barbados and four other Caribbean countries among 84 worldwide that are eligible for H-2A and H-2B visa programmes that allow US employers to bring foreign nationals to the US to fill temporary agricultural and nonagricultural jobs.
The other Caribbean countries are Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
While there are currently no Barbadians on work programmes in the U.S., Jordan said the news was much better for the United Kingdom and Canada.
“The UK opportunity is one that we are currently working on. The interviews have been concluded; the persons from the United Kingdom would have left Barbados last week and that pilot programme is intended to employ 50 persons in agriculture in the United Kingdom,” Jordan explained.
“On the same day that we held a press briefing to notify the country of that opportunity, the Home Office in the United Kingdom made an announcement indicating that that pilot programme, the numbers have increased. So, we believe that Barbados will have the opportunity to add to the 50 who we have already committed to having as part of that pilot programme.
“That came about, we believe, as a result of Brexit and the slow-down of workers from Europe … into the United Kingdom and the continued development of the agricultural sector in the United Kingdom. So, we believe there are additional opportunities to be had in the United Kingdom market,” he added.
In Canada, which Jordan said remains the flagship for Barbadian workers, there are approximately 185 people employed.
On the seasonal agricultural workers programme there are 165 Barbadians, while another 30 are employed in hotels.
“Next week, a hotel that we met with while we were in Canada last year, personnel from that hotel will be coming in to interview persons. They recognize that there is value in workers from Barbados and they are coming in on March 2 to interview workers to be employed in their establishment in Ontario,” the Minister said.
“So, we are maintaining that programme and being aggressive in expanding that programme. We have indicated, to those who we consider our partners, that we have good workers to offer and they can benefit just as our workers can benefit.”
Clarke had also expressed concerns about not seeing funds set aside in the estimates for the Minister and labour personnel to travel abroad to solicit help from foreign employers.
Jordan assured however, that there is a plan in place to connect Barbadian job seekers with employers overseas.
“I, like most other members who have the privilege of leading ministries, continue to be cognizant of where we are as a country in terms of financial resources, so we have to be very strategic in terms of our outreach. But we have included sums there that will allow us to go out and solicit opportunities for our people,” he said.
“I come out of a background where to do business you have to be in people’s faces and you have to build relationships and we’re taking that approach. We also agree that you have to creep before you walk, especially when funding is not plentiful.”
Jordan said his ministry has decided to take an approach where countries would be targeted on a rotating basis.