The public’s ire has erupted on several occasions since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic because of the increasing number of notices from various entities seeking permission to employ non-nationals to fill positions for which there were “no suitable applicants”.
In this high-unemployment environment currently confronting thousands of households in Barbados, it is understandable if citizens become incensed by applications for work permits for jobs many believe could be filled by some of the many trained, skilled, and experienced Barbadians.
What is particularly galling are the number of work permit applications from hotels and tourism-related entities that want to employ persons usually from outside the Caribbean.
With thousands of people on the breadline from the tourism sector or who are under-employed because hotels, restaurants and other activities are not yet back to full capacity, these employers can be accused of rubbing salt in the wounds of jobless Barbadians by importing others for jobs such food and beverage managers, general managers, front office managers and golf course professionals.
As has been suggested, and not seriously refuted by employers, that some entities often identify and even prospect the candidate they want to employ, bring them to Barbados and then follow up the paperwork as if it were a foregone conclusion.
If this is truly what is occurring, then greater scrutiny of work permit applications ought to be carried out by the office of the Chief Immigration Officer and the Ministry of Labour.
To leave it to the public to register objections to the granting of such work permits, cannot be the principal manner of approving or rejecting such applications.
Against this backdrop, it was interesting to hear Prime Minister Mottley’s address to the nation over weekend in which she raised the spectre of xenophobic tendencies of our citizens.
She rightly highlighted the vast numbers of Barbadians who have made significant contributions to the economies of other Caribbean nations, as well as on the international stage, as she made a case for us to be more inclusive in our thinking.
As far as the Prime Minister was concerned, we as Barbadians must recognise that all the skills we require to manage and run our economy cannot be obtained within these 166 square miles.
No one can argue with the Prime Minister’s position, for it is a most reasonable one. However, the concerns of those who have been jobless for almost two years, when the cost of living has been rising, would obviously mount by some of these work permit requests, for what could be called mundane tourism-related positions.
One would have to question the special skills of these imports. What provisions are being made for skills-transfer to fill some of the void that supposedly exists.
We agree with our country’s leader that there is no place for xenophobia, particularly when it is directed against our regional neighbours.
As Prime Minister Mottley pointed out, Barbadians have for decades left their footprint at the highest levels in the civil service and private sector of countries throughout the Caribbean from The Bahamas and Bermuda to Guyana.
One only has to cite the recent announcement from TIAA, a leading North American investment firm, that it has hired Barbadian Dave Dowrich as its new chief financial officer. That firm is among the Fortune 500 companies that has more than US$1.3 trillion in assets under management.
Dowrich, who went to primary and secondary school in Barbados before heading off to the University of Toronto where he gained a BSc with honours in Actuarial Science and Applied Statistics, was sought out by the company’s chief executive officer Thasunda Brown Duckett.
Not that we needed affirmation about the quality of education and kinds of top-quality citizens this small island has produced, but Dowrich’s appointment says a lot.
His was not a token appointment of a black man to add “colour” to the executive management team of this firm, Dowrich has a rich corporate background, having held top posts at AIG Japan and Asia, Prudential Financial, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs. He also returned to Barbados and worked here for a while.
The fact that Dowrich, who received his upbringing, and foundational education in Barbados, can reach the position of CFO of a trillion-dollar investment firm, suggests our corporate leaders need to place more confidence in Barbadians to be competent business leaders.
When we examine our local boards of directors, and the senior management of our leading corporate entities, including hotels, we must question whether Barbadians are being asked to be inclusive, while exclusivity is guiding big business.