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Feature Address by Sen. the Hon. Jennifer Baptiste Primus at the Labour Migration Consultation

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FEATURE ADDRESS

BY

SENATOR THE HONOURABLE JENNIFER BAPTISTE-PRIMUS

MINISTER OF LABOUR AND SMALL ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT

AT THE

NATIONAL STAKEHOLDER CONSULTATION

ON THE DRAFT LABOUR MIGRATION POLICY

TRINIDAD HILTON, PORT OF SPAIN

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 13, 2019

 

A blessed Good Morning to all,

On behalf of the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, I welcome each of you and thank you for your participation in this Consultation. A Consultation where we will examine the global phenomenon of migration, a phenomenon that has been occurring since time has been recorded.  In those times, ships were the preferred transportation method, while today, there are several options for the migration process.  The outcome of today’s proceedings are integral as we obtain your views as our key stakeholders on this very important issue of labour migration in order to inform the draft national labour migration policy.

As stated previously, Labour migration is not a new occurrence and our beloved twin island republic has had experience with this idea of moving from place to place in search of work. Actually, the majority of our foreparents came to this land to work and seek betterment for themselves and their families.  Be it on a sugar or cocoa plantation, in the north, central or south of Trinidad or in Tobago, persons came from long or short distances and took residence here. This is a story that can be told not only to Trinidad and Tobago, but to several of our Caribbean Neighbours who would have inherited migrant workers to bolster the workforce on the island. Movement of labour did not cease in the time of our foreparents, but rather, it has continued and today we have many brothers and sisters from within the region and beyond who have left their homeland and are now working in Trinidad and Tobago. This issue is not a new or unique one as moving for the purpose of work has been recognised as one of the primary reasons for international migration.Statistics from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show that migrant workers represented approximately 59 per cent of the global migrant population in 2017.  Ladies and Gentlemen, that is more than half of the worker population.

As a Government, through the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, we recognise that migrant workers face unique challenges and vulnerabilities. Just earlier this year, this Ministry would have looked at two pieces of legislation that intertwine with today’s topic.  In March, we looked at the Foreign Labour Contract Act Chapter 88:11, a 119 year old piece of legislation that came into existence to address the “labour shortage” in Trinidad and Tobago.  While in June, the Ministry consulted on the younger of the two, the 80 year old Recruiting of Workers Act, Chapter 88:10 which was adopted to regulate the recruiting of workers and provides for the licensing of persons who recruit workers.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you can understand the importance in the development of specific mechanisms, such as a National Labour Migration Policy to protect the group of migrant workers.This Policy should assist in ensuring that challenges faced by migrant workers are minimized while allowing them to make the maximum contribution possible to the local economy. This inert protection would assist in the stimulation of the country’s growth and development in the various sectors. Additionally, a national labour migration policy would address issues related to our Trinidad and Tobago nationals who are working overseas, as the Ministry recognizes that protection needs to be afforded to our residents who make the journey to other countries for various reasons.These simple but poignant points showcase the crucial need for the development a National Labour Migration Policy that is consistent withthis Ministry’s mandate to ensure that a strong framework is in place for the protection of workers and which aligns with our international partners in keeping the principles of the decent work agenda set by the International Labour Organization.

The process for the development of this Policy began with the Ministry approval from the Cabinet appointing an inter-ministerial committee for the Development of a Labour Migration Policy in July, 2018. As its name suggests, members of this Multipartite Committee have been working feverishly to the development of a Policy that is needed, as there has been a recent influx of non-nationals seeking better conditions than are in their home countries over the last year. It has been Government’s Policy to formulate and implement a Policy on Migrant Workers since coming into Office and I am extremely satisfied this Committee is hosting this consultation toward to development of a Policy.

With 150 million migrant workers worldwide, the Policy needs to take into account all the perils associated with Migration, including but not limited to exploitation, human trafficking and prostitution.  The development of the Labour Migration Policy will also contribute to the country’s effort in meeting labour migration targets established by the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and uphold our ratification of the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 97 - Migration for Employment, which contains provisions for matters such as remuneration, hours of work, overtime arrangements, membership of trade unions and social security.

A robust national labour migration policy will ensure that the positive effects of this phenomenon are maximised and that the negative effects are mitigated against. Bearing this objective in mind, some of the issues which this policy should address include: 

  • The institutional, legislative and regulatory framework required;
  • Obtaining timely and consistent data;
  • Facilitating the contribution of Trinidad and Tobago nationals employed overseas to national development;
  • Access to social services such as heatlh by migrant workers; and
  • Managing irregular labour migration

These issues will set the basis of the discourse that will be engaged in today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, ensuring the protection of migrant workers is consistent with national policy, as well as the international sustainable development agenda. A strong labour migration policy would facilitate the achievement of two of the strategic initiatives and engender actions under goal two; theme one in the Vision 2030 document.  The theme 1 pillar speaks to putting people first, nurturing our greatest asset, and we cannot deny that our greatest asset is our human resources. Goal two highlights the need to focus on the factors that social services delivery will be improved to better serve the needs of vulnerable groups. We can certainly agree that the migrant worker falls into one of our most vulnerable groups as they are exposed to some of the most inhumane conditions by some unscrupulous employers.

Labour Migration Policies fall squarely under Goal 1 - no poverty, goal 8 – decent work and economic growth and goal 10 – reduced inequalities of the Sustainable Development Goals more commonly coined as SDGs from the United Nations. Furthermore, this issue is directly related to the following SDG targets:-

  • protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments of all workers, including migrant workers, particularly women migrants, and those in precarious employment;
  • facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.

The need for a national labour migration policy also fulfills the Ministry’s commitment to its continued efforts in supporting strong policy development and legislation to support employment. The Ministry also remains committed to ensuring that this framework is developed through a consultative process. As such, this Ministry has been pursuing legislative reform through stakeholder consultation since 2016 and has become a mainstay for change. Therefore I would like you to see today’s consultation not as an isolated activity, but as one component in a larger process which is geared towards strengthening the local labour landscape.

I trust that I have underscored the importance of your task today. My wish is that your deliberations today are successful, as we work together to ensure the protection of migrant workers here in Trinidad and Tobago through a robust labour migration policy. One thing is certain—It is important to establish clear policies, legislation and implementing mechanisms to ensure that persons who employ migrant workers are regulated and the labour market is free from exploitative conditions. Today, we begin the discussion of the best method of doing so to protect not only persons coming to our shores but our very own nationals overseas.

As a result of increased globalization, CARICOM, and the modern patterns of migration, migrant workers ought to be considered in the development of any Government’s policies and legislation. Earlier this year, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago would have been faced with a situation where hundreds of Venezuelan nationals were fleeing their homeland, where a political crisis and crippling recession have left people in the once-prosperous South American country jobless, battling poverty, and struggling with chronic shortages of food, medicine and other essentials to seek refuge here. They would have gone through a registration process with the Ministry of National Security and approved persons were granted a one year employment card. It should also be noted that over the years, migrant workers have arrived seeking a better standard of living from as far as China and include regional neighbours such as Guyana and Grenada. 

To the stakeholders, you would need to consider the current structure and legislative provisions within our current Acts and use it as a guide to your inputs. Allow me to record this Ministry’s gratitude to our international partners, the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation who continue to extend invaluable support to all initiatives of the Ministry. We look forward to continued collaborations with you. I would also like to thank each of you, our valued stakeholders in advance for the contributions to be made in the interactive working group sessions on a topic that affects each of us.

In closing, I leave you with the words of Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-Generalof the United Nations:

“migration powers economic growth, reduces inequalities and connects diverse societies….”

While this quote from Secretary General Guterres refers to migration broadly, the consequences he identified are also true for labour migration and rings pertinent to today’s consultation topic. I trust that we can work together to develop a National Labour Migration Policy which can redound several benefits to not only our citizens but to our economy as a whole.  I know that the output of today will stand the test and scrutiny of any international standard on the global market and look forward to the report of the recommendations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.