MOEH official: Govt. not looking to migrant workers for debris removal

MOEH official: Govt. not looking to migrant workers for debris removal
Debris cleanup of the Mudd in Abaco following Hurricane Dorian. (file photo)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Ministry of the Environment and Housing Senior Deputy Director Thomasina Wilson said yesterday she envisions residents displaced by Hurricane Dorian returning to the affected islands to work in various capacities needed to execute the ministry’s Debris Management Plan (DMP).

As reported by Eyewitness News Online yesterday, the DMP plan calls for more than 900 workers to be involved in clearing the islands affected by Hurricane Dorian.

The report notes Abaco and Grand Bahama do not have enough qualified personnel to execute debris removal due to the scale of Dorian’s impact.

Wilson, who prepared the report and has been identified as debris mission manager, said: “Human resources hopefully will be found. What I was thinking when I was writing, I was saying they kept talking about persons wanting to relocate back home, and so I said that we could probably look at able bodies who are trainable to relocate; persons initially from the Abacos and from Grand Bahama because you know this was a holistic approach for both islands. And I was looking at the persons from both islands… to assist with the management, the segregation, the operation of all these things

“The human resources would come from the local residents and if possible, like I said, they would be trainable and then they would use the international people to train the local people, so they could be resilient after the international people leave.”

Wilson said the plan is to get Bahamians engaged and back home, while providing them an opportunity to work and accumulate some funds via the cash for work program.

The program is being overseen by the United Nations Developmental program, which the ministry said will play a critical role in the long-term recovery of the affected communities.

“They should start to rebuild their lives because they are there now, they are helping to remove the debris and they [would] be accumulating some funds to start reconstruction,” Wilson said.

She added: “If they know they are going to be on a job then they will have more incentive to go there, get one of those homes, and go to work and then start rebuilding [their home].”

Debris and resource estimating models peg the total number of debris collection personnel required in Grand Bahama at 680; with debris segregation personnel at 400; and 107 debris monitors.

The report indicates 365 debris crew personnel will be needed for Abaco; with 214 for debris segregation; and 60 debris monitors.

The job opportunities outlined include debris monitor, debris segregation crew, equipment operator, foreman, and quality control manager, among others.

Wilson was unable to confirm the pay for various roles, but noted the UNDP was working on those logistics. She acknowledged accommodation for those workers requires consideration, though she noted the government’s plans to construct a family relief center and the trailer unit already on the island.

There is an estimated 1.09 million cubic yards of debris in Abaco and 2.06 million cubic yards of debris in Grand Bahama, the report notes.

The department has established a timeline of 180 days to the total removal of debris.

According to the report: “Government should consider an experienced debris contractor with a record of hiring and training local personnel in positions such as equipment operators, quality control managers, safety officers, mechanics, project superintendents and many others.

“The goal is to hire residents to inject dollars back into the local economy while training them for future reconstruction projects and disaster resiliency.”

Migrant workers

Asked whether the government has considered engaging migrant workers, Wilson said:

“From the government’s perspective, its stance is that it is not going to be using migrants to do this work.

“I understand too those ones who have work permits, if their permit is for instance to work at a factory or work at a farm, if that farm has been destroyed by the hurricane, then that means you don’t have a work permit.”

She added: “You can’t use that as a broad umbrella to say you have a work permit for anything. No, the premise of you having a work permit is because we need you to work on task ‘A’ or ‘B’ and that is what your work permit would say. But if task ‘A’ or ‘B’ has been destroyed by whatever means, then you don’t have anything.”

Many businesses face the decision to re-open or close their doors in affected areas.

The government has warned workers permits are non-transferable, adding migrants must leave the country to apply for a new one.