Uproar over Bakers Bay foreign workers

Uproar over Bakers Bay foreign workers
Just over 100 Mexican workers arrived in The Bahamas for the Baker's Bay project earlier this month. (FILE PHOTO)

NASSAU BAHAMAS – Images of dozens of Mexican workers making their way to Abaco today for the construction of the Bakers Bay project caused widespread outrage and alarm across social media.

Just over 100 workers were flown in as the company begins reconstruction following significant damage from Hurricane Dorian last year.

The renewed opposition to the move comes as the country faces record unemployment rates, projected to climb by more than 40 percent.

“With unemployment reported and estimated to be as high as fifty percent, Bahamians were justifiably aghast to see the importation of foreign workers from Mexico ostensibly to replace Bahamian workers at a major tourism project in the Abaco Cays,” said Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell.

“We stand with those Bahamians of goodwill in strong opposition to this.”

Mitchell insisted that the decision is unacceptable and flies in the face of the stated immigration policy of ‘Bahamianization’ that has been advanced and practiced by successive governments.

“The Ministers of Labour and Immigration must make public statements on the Government’s policy rationale for what appears on the face of it to be a nonstarter,” Mitchell said.

“This latest episode only entrenches this widely held feeling, belief and perception that Bahamians are being treated as second class citizens in their own country by their out-of-touch government who really does not care about them.

In February, Eyewitness News reported that Baker’s Bay was seeking some 500 work permits to help jumpstart construction.

At the time, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest defended the decision to allow foreigners to rebuild the property.

Additionally, Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson noted that foreign labour will be necessary to facilitate the pace of post Dorian reconstruction alongside a number of major developments.

Today, Johnson could not be reached up to press time for comment.

Immigration Director Dr. Clarence Russell told Eyewitness News yesterday that, “any person or persons or entities who would have enquired and or made a lawful application for a large sum of work permits, particularly on large projects, go through another agency other than the immigration department. Once a decision is made at that level, directives were sent down to the immigration department.”

Asked whether he could confirm how many permits were approved, Russell said: “The Bahamas Investment Authority is responsible for the number of work permits that are issued, under special circumstances.”

However, responding to questions from this news organization, the BIA noted it “doe not issue work permits. BIA communicates the decision of NEC, ie the recommendation of maximum number of work permits to be issued.”

Last week, during his wrap up to the 2020/2021 budget, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that Baker’s Bay will continue with its expansion plans estimated at $400 million over three years.

He noted that Bahamians currently make up 80 percent (472) of persons employed at the property.

Minnis further underscored several developments that he believes signal investor confidence and the ongoing restoration of Abaco’s economy, including the Montage Cay and Marina project and the proposed $300 million five star residential resort and marina development by Tyrsoz Family Holdings Ltd.