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Antigua hotel workers want equal opportunity

ST. JOHN’S — The Labour Department is defending its efforts to implement succession planning, which aims to ensure non-nationals who occupy supervisory and managerial positions within the hospitality industry, identify nationals to act as an understudy.

This is following a public outcry from hotel workers amid tensions over equal opportunities for nationals and expatriates. Scores of hotel workers said they believe little or nothing is being done to ensure qualified native Antiguans and Barbudans get top positions in the industry.

The workers, who spoke on the conditions of anonymity, also accused some hotel managers of exhibiting racist behaviour and blamed the authorities at the Labour Department for granting work permits to non-nationals when qualified locals can do the job.

Egbert Joseph, president of the Antigua & Barbuda Management Association, which was established in 1983, was not afraid to address what he deems to be a “vexing” and “festering” issue facing the hotel industry.

Joseph, who was first vice president of the Trade Union Congress, and worked in the industry since 1961, including at the managerial level, said the constant use of expats retards progress and he dismissed the Ministry of Labour’s Succession Planning as “bare talk.”

He also blamed the ministry for what he described as the expatriate predicament plaguing the nation and said in two cases he knows, the labour commissioner refused work permits, but then the minister reversed the decision.

When contacted, Minister of Labour Dr. Errol Cort did not deny that there were instances when a work permit application were “recommended for rejection,” but were approved after the affected party made what he termed “a compelling case.” However, the labour minister said this was the exception, not the rule.

Senior Labour Officer in the Ministry of Labour Eltonia Anthony-Rojas rebuffed statements that government is not doing enough to create opportunities for locals.

In fact, she said the department has worked assiduously to assist nationals.

“Each work permit form has a question on it, which we take very serious care to address, as to whether or not the vacancy was advertised locally,” she said. “Now in most instances, it is claimed that it was advertised and no locals were found.”

Anthony-Rojas said once this is found not to be the case, the department advertises the post independently, and in some cases, they are told nationals met the criteria but the company refused to accept them.

“We try to get to the bottom of the complaints and one particular company has realised that the department is willing to investigate every detail because what we are pushing for is for locals to be given priority when seeking to fill positions,” she said.

The senior labour officer said succession planning is workable in some hotels while some expats continue to resist training locals.

She also added some managers are against the move, citing the training clause is absent from their contracts. (Antigua Observer)

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