Tuesday, May 21, 2019 — The 1st OECS Council of Ministers of Labour Meeting was held in Barbados on May 13, 2019. The meeting brought together Ministers and government officials from Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Montserrat and Saint Kitts and Nevis to discuss multiple matters related to strengthening the Canadian Temporary Foreign Workers Programme (TFWP) and the coordinating unit at the OECS Commission – the Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service (ECLS).
The objectives of the 1st OECS Council of Ministers of Labour Meeting were:
- To review the impact of the Temporary Foreign Workers Programme (TFWP) on OECS economies;
- To understand the current situation at the ECLS and supply-country worker processing systems;
- To confirm the findings of the ECLS stakeholder consultations;
- To consider key recommendations of the 3-year ECLS Strategic Plan;
- To consider policy decisions for improvement of the OECS’s participation in the TFWP.
- To discuss the way forward for wider OECS Labour matters in the context of ‘Free Movement of People’; and
- To seek common positions on these wider Labour matters, for participation in the 11th ILO Meeting on Caribbean Ministers of Labour, hosted by Barbados, from 14-15 May 2019.
Director General of the OECS Commission, Dr. Didacus Jules opened the meeting by reinforcing the significance of the Canada Temporary Foreign Workers Programmes under the Commission’s strategic priorities to reduce unemployment in member states, the resulting gains to member states’ economies via workers’ remittances and recalled the Commissions commitment to the continued strengthening the Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service (ECLS).
Head of Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service, Olaf Fontenelle, presented an overview of the impact on OECS economies of the TFWP, which is coordinated by the ECLS in conjunction with OECS Ministries of Labour and the Government of Canada. A total of 3,623 Nationals of the participating OECS Member States have had the opportunity to work in the agricultural sector in Canada between 2014 and 2018. In addition, 826 workers have already been recruited through the programme, to date, in 2019.
Participants also addressed challenges with regards to worker status reporting in respective supply-country processing systems, including visa applications and biometrics. A proposed 3-year Strategic Plan was presented to the meeting, with recommendations which are expected to result in major improvements including:
- Increased employment opportunities each year;
- Secondary & Non-agricultural Pilot Programme launched (including Poultry Processing, Egg Farming and Bee-keeping);
- An increase in the participation of women in the TFWP via a ‘Women in Agriculture’ initiative;
- Improved Worker Welfare service delivery;
- Strengthened human resource capacity of Ministries of Labour and Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service; and
- Harmonized Policy Guidelines for Ministries of Labour to administer the TFWP.
All participants confirmed the need to strengthen the work undertaken by the ECLS and relevant officers in the Ministries of Labour in each participating OECS Member State. Saint Lucia’s Minister of Labour the Hon. Stephenson King outlined the important impact of the programme on the economies of the countries and noted the example of Saint Lucia.
Most of the farmers have been able to educate their children, provide healthcare to their families and strengthen their whole economic base. In addition, a number of farmers have been able to get into their own farm production on their return to Saint Lucia, which results in another form of income taking place in Saint Lucia,” Minister King stated.
Delegates also benefited from a virtual presentation by the Commission’s Statistical Services Unit (SSU) on progress with the ongoing – Harmonized OECS Labour Force Survey (LFS).
The 1st OECS Council of Ministers of Labour Meeting ended with country updates on the ‘Free Movement of People, preparations for the 11th ILO Ministerial meeting on ‘Shaping a Brighter Future of Work for the Caribbean and one-on-one meetings between ECLS officials and each participating country where Ministers and government representatives had the opportunity to deepen the discussion on the impact of the Canadian Temporary Foreign Workers Programme on a national level.