Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News
December 7, 2006

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The statement by Manzoor Nadir, the Minister of Labour, to the effect that locals should have the first call on local jobs is politically correct. That is all that can truly be said of Nadir's statement.

In practice however, neither the PPP government nor the PNC governments have ever given effect to such a policy. Locals have never had an exclusive first call on jobs in Guyana.

There are many foreigners working in Guyana, both in the public sector and in the private sector, and it is contestable whether suitable locals could not have been found to fill the many vacancies presently occupied by foreign nationals.

Guyana has a lot of bright and competent people around and often the problem is not finding the skills but of being able to keep these skills in the country. There are great opportunities awaiting Guyanese outside of these borders and I would hate to think that our young people would deny themselves the exposure and the financial benefits that come with this exposure simply to stay here.

Many skilled Guyanese have in fact left these shores and many more will continue to leave these shores seeking betterment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and in fact I have actively supported Guyanese seeking greener pastures in as much as I have admired those like Uncle Freddie and Uncle Adam who claim that they would not leave these shores for all the riches in the world.

There are many foreign nationals working in Guyana, particularly in the restaurant sector. I fail to understand how so many of them could have been granted work permits since in many instances some of them are employed in positions simply to serve meals and collect payments, things that could have been done by locals. I believe that the status of some of these foreigners needs to be revisited.

There are also many foreign firms operating in Guyana. They have no doubt insisted that in order to protect their investments and ensure sound management, they need to have foreign personnel work with their companies. Many foreign firms have this arrangement and so long as it does not involve non-managerial staff, I see no reason why this practice should be abolished and why investors should be told that locals should have a first call on managerial jobs. However, when it comes to positions such as sales persons, I do not support the granting of work permits.

Labour as I have indicated in previous columns is operating in a completely different environment to what existed twenty years ago. Companies are seeking the best skills and seeking employees that they feel can serve their interests no matter if these employees have to be imported.

Guyanese too have in their hundreds of thousands taken advantage of this situation and gone to work in the islands of the Caribbean doing jobs that can be done by locals in those countries. However, you do not hear many Guyanese complaining that locals in those islands should have the first call on those jobs done by Guyanese. No, Guyanese accept the jobs.

Admittedly, this has caused friction in their relations with locals. In Barbados, for example, nationals there complain about the large number of Guyanese who are granted work permits to work in the construction sector on the island. However, many employers would tell you that the work produced by the Guyanese is superior and they work harder than the locals.

Guyanese therefore should be the least to complain about foreign nationals working in Guyana because Guyanese themselves are working in other people's countries all over the world, sometimes legally and sometimes illegally.

This is not to suggest that we should simply open the floodgates to foreign labour. Certainly not! We must guarantee jobs for Guyanese, but before we assume that we have an employment problem in Guyana we should first decide whether the real problem is not unemployable labour problem.

A few days ago, I was in a Chinese restaurant and was being served by a Guyanese national. The service was so lousy that even though the Peeper made no complaints, the Chinese owner, recognising the poor service, upbraided the Guyanese worker who felt so offended that she was ready to quarrel with the man. Yet, it was clear that she lacked what it took to be working in the hospitality sector.

This same problem is found throughout the country. You go to so many places and find poor quality service. I do not know if this is a function of the pay that is offered to employees, if because of poor remuneration the best staff is not attracted, but the service in many places leaves a great deal to be desired.

I hear a lot about University graduates not finding jobs. I know for a fact that many of these graduates are already working when they graduate and many others simply do not meet the grade. I have spoken to at least one businessman who says that it is simply not enough to look at the academic qualifications of university graduates; you have to put them to the test to discover their suitability for the jobs for which they are applying.

I also know of many businesses who struggle to find suitable clerks to work in their stores.

The question therefore of foreign nationals working in Guyana is not an open and shut case as Minister Nadir would have us think. I can find no fault with any businessman who invests hundreds of millions deciding that he must source his skills from overseas. If I was investing hundreds of millions into this economy, I would want to ensure that I could provide a top class service and if it means that I need to fill certain vacancies from overseas, then so be it.