LABOUR and Social Security Minister Derrick Kellier insisted yesterday that his ministry was "not distributing work permits willy-nilly", while rejecting suggestions that jobs were being given to Chinese nationals over Jamaican workers.
"The business of permits falls under the control of the Ministry of Labour and we do administer a rigorous regime in this regard; in doing so we take an account of certain conditionalities such as investment, economic growth and employment opportunities. Foremost in all these considerations is the protection of the Jamaican worker," Kellier told journalists at a press briefing at Jamaica House in St Andrew yesterday.
"In other words, qualified and skilled Jamaicans are always given preference over foreigners. Jamaica is constantly in search of investments and in fact one of the major priorities of government is to promote and encourage investments that have the potential not only for economic growth but also for employment opportunities," the labour minister told journalists.
He, however, admitted that for a number of these investments there are conditionalities and employment ratios that are predetermined.
Yesterday, Kellier said for the period April 2012 to July 2013 a total 4,098 work permits were issued, with 1,741 or 43 per cent going to Chinese nationals.
According to the labour minister, this is indicative of the level of Chinese investment in the country at this time.
"These Chinese nationals are employed mainly in the wholesale and retail trade and on construction, road improvement and basic medical facilities construction, just to name a few, and the list is growing. In most of these instances Chinese nationals engaged are of a technical and professional nature and in no way displace Jamaican workers," Kellier said.
"...Due diligence is being done to ensure that the Jamaican worker is in no way impeded from access to these sites," the labour minister continued.
He noted further that the general position is that when there is need in an establishment for work permits to be issued those jobs have to be advertised locally first.
"So long as there is no one responding to those applications that are suitable to the employers, then the ministry goes ahead to support them with a work permit to bring someone from abroad. There are some categories for which we do not issue work permits and we know it is a concern to a lot of persons particularly because the unemployment rate at this time is quite high," Kellier noted.
He said the ministry, as a rule, does not give work permits for labourers on work sites.
"Furthermore, it must be understood that the percentage ratio that exists on work sites is to give an opportunity as well for technology transfer to take place so that those persons who come from abroad to work here are somewhat on the work site to understudy so that when they leave we are in a position to fill those slots ourselves," he added.
Addressing allegations that Chinese professionals have been working as labourers under false pretences, Kellier said there was a gross misunderstanding.
"What persons have to understand is that the culture of the Chinese is a little different from the culture of the Jamaican worker. You will find that on a Jamaican worksite where you have all Jamaicans and there is an engineer on that site and he is walking past a wheelbarrow that is on that site he will walk around it; the Chinese engineer is going to take it up and move it. People will see that and say we have persons here as engineers but are pushing wheelbarrows on site," he explained.
"We monitor all sites whether they are Chinese, Indians or our nationals. Basically, if we get reports of any violations we make sure we investigate to see whether or not these allegations are true and if we find that persons are not conforming we will take the necessary action," Kellier said.
"We have to be very careful about how we jump to conclusions about some of these things because in instances where we hear allegations and we have done examinations it does not turn out to be exactly what the perception was, so we have to be very careful about that," the labour minister added.