Photo Credit: Clifton Skelton/BVI Platinum News
The expansion of the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, cruise ship development and at least two five star hotels added on Tortola are all needed to create jobs for the next five years. This is the view of Hon. Archibald Christian, At-Large Representative.
The Government Member speaking in the House of Assembly last week said for the unemployment situation among both BVIslanders and Belongers to change, the Government has to find a number of ways to raise the employment level.
"We talk about the cruise ship development; we have legitimate concerns from members of the public, but there are opportunities out there with that particular development. We are talking about the airport expansion and extension; a number of job opportunities there as well. We go back to years ago when we were attracting five star hotels in the Territory; Tortola itself needs at least two more five star hotels to complement the number of persons wanting to visit the Virgin Islands and you create employment opportunities for people for another four to five years," he pointed out.
He acknowledged that with some of the proposed projects persons may have reservations, but according to Hon. Christian, it's time the Territory be proactive and move forward.
"But we can't always feel that if we look at these projects and we look at the negatives that we continue to dress back; we need to be proactive and move forward if we need to get our people employed, if we need to get our people involved in entrepreneurial activities," Hon. Christian asserted.
Meanwhile, speaking more on the unemployment among BVIslanders and Belongers, Hon. Christian said on a daily basis persons are knocking on their doors bemoaning how bad they are looking for work.
"The people that are coming looking for jobs are either BVIslanders or Belongers who cannot find work to do in this country anymore, but who are also concerned that work permits are being granted on a regular basis. We have to look at that scenario and draw the line somewhere. If we have more people in this country that are unemployed than ever before, then we cannot continue to increase the number of persons coming into the Territory," he stated.
However, the At-Large Representative noted that he is mindful that in some areas there are specialized skills and services that are required.
"But a young lady coming down to my office with tears in her eyes, who is running from restaurant to store to supermarkets looking for a job and seeing people who she recognizes not being from here and cannot get an answer to an application is something that I am concerned about. There was a young man in my office a few days and he has been looking for employment for months."
Hon. Christian added, "He sat down in my office for 45 minutes and told me about all the places that he went to look for work and with tears in his eyes, pulled out a tube of toothpaste out of his pocket and said to me that there is a possibility that he will have to go and sell this to make a few dollars. That is how serious the unemployment situation is here in the Territory."
In July, Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour disclosed that research has shown that there are over 100 nationalities represented in the BVI. He said this in itself presents some unique challenges as they seek to ensure that the rights of all concerned are handled appropriately.
The Minister said the BVI is a service based economy and therefore, the quality of the workforce is one of its greatest assets.
"I think that I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the expatriate sector of the labour force has played a critical role in this Territory's development. However, it is my duty as Minister responsible for this subject, by extension the Government of the BVI, to ensure that there is a balance and that the rights of BVIslanders are protected where practical," he stated.
The Minister said to this end, they have created an employment unit within the Labour Department with its main function to ensure that BVIslanders are given a fair chance at finding gainful employment. He said therefore, they will be expecting businesses to notify the Labour Department of all vacancies.
The Labour Minister stated that the move is not intended to create fear in the labour market and it is not Government's intention to require businesses to hire someone who is not qualified; neither are they expecting employers to have to fight tooth and nail for every work permit. However, they are instead hoping to achieve some semblance of balance within the labour market.