THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) has denied suggestions that it issues work permits to foreigners in areas where Jamaicans can do the job.
"I know that quite often the point is made that work permits are issued to persons who are coming to do jobs that Jamaicans can do. Sometimes that is overstating the situation. It is really not so, but it could be the perception," permanent secretary in the ministry, Alvin McIntosh, told Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) on Wednesday.
"We try as much as we possibly can not to displace the Jamaican worker, when he is skilled and competent to do the job," McIntosh asserted.
He was responding to questions raised by members of the committee — Mike Henry, Dr Andrew Wheatley and Lloyd B Smith — about the issuing of work permits to foreigners in areas like the construction and hospitality industries.
Dr Wheatley, an Opposition member of Parliament, said that there were concerns about "casual" workers coming to Jamaica to work with permits issued by the ministry, despite the high local unemployment rate. Casual workers are usually those on temporary employment contracts with limited entitlements to benefits and little or no security of tenure in the job.
"This is something we need to guard against," Wheatley insisted.
Henry referred to the recent criticisms of government's intention to award work permits to foreign nationals who are to be employed on the Highway 2000 North-South Link project, while Smith was concerned about foreigners being given work permits to work in the "entertainment" industry on the North Coast.
McIntosh, however, said that the law protects Jamaican workers.
"Work permits should not be given to foreigners at the expense of local persons competent to do the job. Most work permits are granted to persons who come to do business, or highly skilled professionals, and we require that the ministry be informed whenever a work permit is being sought," he said.
"In other words, we have an electronic labour exchange system, and an advertisement has to be placed on our system. We require that the person who is applying for the work permit place an advertisement in a local newspaper. But we don't rely on that (advertisement), the advertisement has to be placed in our system, so that we can be satisfied that there has been no response to the (newspaper) advertisement. It is really based on those factors that the work permit is granted," he explained.
Smith said that allegations were being made about the granting of permits to "persons brought in to provide various forms of entertainment".
"I just wondered, is it that we do not have such skilled persons here with those necessary competencies?" he asked.
Henry queried whether there was a connection between the MLSS and other agencies involved with the issuing of a work permit, including the immigration section of the Ministry of National Security, and the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing in the case of the North-South Link, to ensure that balance is maintained.
McIntosh responded that his ministry consults with the ministries and agencies in the procurement of work permits. He said that in terms of the hospitality industry, the Ministry of Tourism vets the applications before approval, as his ministry does not have the machinery to do all the vetting necessary.
PAAC chairman Edmund Bartlett, said that the issue had "important implications for social order and stability".
"We have to be careful that in bringing these levels of workers into the system, it doesn't become dysfunctional. Balance is important and, more important, is the categories of workers (granted permits), because if it is skewed in favour of workers of which there is an abundance in Jamaica, there would be problems. We need a formula to ensure balance," he insisted.