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Davies says Goat Islands won't be a Chinese enclave

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 02, 2014    

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MINISTER of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies has confirmed that the official worker ratio between Jamaican and Chinese nationals employed by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) on the North South link of Highway 2000 remains at 1:1.

However, Dr Davies said that the Chinese investors have never fully utilised their quota, hence, of over 1,000 workers he said are currently working on the project, there are over 600 Jamaican workers.

Davies also assured the House of Representatives that the Government is looking at implementing measures to ensure that CHEC's proposed US$1.5-billion investment in the Goat Islands does not evolve into an enclave or an economic zone for the Chinese government-owned company.

"These are issues which we appreciate, and let me just speak unambiguously: This will not be an enclave or an economic zone," Davies responded to questions in the House of Representatives Tuesday from Opposition MPs Pearnel Charles and Mike Henry.

He said that the Government is aware that it is an issue of concern to many Jamaicans, and, last Monday, the Cabinet spent a long time discussing what measures could be used, from the point of view of Jamaica's national security, to ensure against the area becoming an enclave.

"This is part of the reason why we are looking at the ratio of Jamaican workers to foreign workers," Davies acknowledged.

He said that the foreigners do not necessarily have to be Chinese immigrants, as companies will want to recruit skills from various areas.

He said that he would be willing to discuss with the Opposition what would be a reasonable proposal for protecting Jamaica's national interests, including the interests of skilled Jamaicans.

Jamaican trade union leaders have raised the issue in the past that a 3:1 ratio in terms of the employment of Jamaicans as against foreign nationals on sites in the construction industry involving international contractors has given way to the 1:1 ratio since the emergence of CHEC as a major investor.

The unions have also criticised the absence of union representation on most CHEC sites, as well as accused CHEC of disguising labourers as skilled or supervisory staff with work permits. However, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security says it has no evidence of this happening, although it suspects that skilled Chinese personnel would not object to assisting with unskilled tasks.

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