If not now, eventually
PRIME Minister Andrew Holness has carefully broached the contentious issue of foreign worker recruitment. During his speech at the unveiling of Pepsi-Cola’s new production line in Jamaica on Tuesday, he acknowledged the private sector’s calls to consider increasing the controlled influx of overseas workers to support the local labour force, particularly in light of Jamaica’s current economic growth path.
Holness reassured the public that this is not a new concept and pointed out that various growth strategies have been employed in the past. He also highlighted that neighbouring countries have implemented similar measures, and Jamaica might have to consider similar actions in the future.
“There are various estimates as to the actual pool of labour that is outside the formal labour force,” said Holness. “If we continue to grow and our growth pace increases, we will use up those who are outside. Maybe in the next five years, six years, maybe in the next decade.”
In recent years, there has been discussion about importing foreign workers for various industries, including construction, tourism, and manufacturing. Private stakeholders have voiced concerns about the inadequate workforce, primarily due to people voluntarily leaving formal employment. However, there are contrasting opinions among Jamaicans, with some arguing that the labour force is available but jobs are scarce and do not offer competitive wages. Manufacturers have contended that Jamaicans are reluctant to work.
The catalyst for discussing this issue was the employment opportunities created by Pepsi’s new production line. Holness pointed to this as evidence of Jamaica generating more jobs and reducing the unemployment rate. Despite this, he noted that there are still young men not employed in meaningful economic pursuits and engaging in criminal activities, which may not be adequately captured in the figures.
“For some, the reduction in our unemployment juxtaposes against seeing in communities young men not employed in formal and meaningful economic pursuits. I see our young men still being involved in criminal activity. In seeing so much human resources literally going to waste, it may seem as if the figures are not adequately capturing those persons,” said Holness.
Holness recognised that questions could arise about the methodology used to calculate the unemployment rate but assured that the method is not new.
“Over the last 30 years, when the numbers have been very high, it’s the same metric that has been used,” he said.
He did, however, point out where changes were made, such as the improved fiscal management of the country, which has fostered a conducive business environment, and the development of an institutional framework that has bolstered private sector confidence in investing. He stated that the Government has absorbed individuals who are willing to work and equipped themselves with education and skills to enter the workforce formally. However, there remains a segment on the fringes of society that has opted not to participate in the labour force due to various circumstances.
“So the Government has to create new programmes through HEART/NSTA and by extending the school leaving years,” Holness said. “So that when they leave, the transition from school to work is seamless,” he added.
He described it as a national emergency to get human resources that are not in the labour force to become functional for the world of work. “That is now a driving priority of this Administration,” said Holness. “Jamaica is in a very good place, but there are challenges and obstacles that may not be evident in front of us; it requires strategic thinking.”