Fred Mitchell warns Baha Mar
Guardian Senior Reporter
Published: Mar 25, 2013
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said yesterday he is concerned that many Bahamians will not be qualified for employment at the multi-billion-dollar Baha Mar resort, but warned that it would be
a “tough sell” for his ministry to approve work permits for bartenders, laborers and maids at the property.
Mitchell said the private sector must work with the government to train the labor force to take on skilled jobs instead of complaining about a skilled labor shortage.
His comments came at a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration where he spoke of the social pressure created by untrained and unemployed Bahamians.
“We’re particularly worried because there are [several] thousand jobs that are said to be coming at Baha Mar,” he said.
“And if we don’t address this issue of training they will fix their mouths to come to the Department of Immigration talking about work permits for bartenders, housekeepers and laborers in the hotel sector.
“That’s going to be a tough sell to this minister anyway.”
Mitchell suggested that Baha Mar officials were making a case for the need for a large number of skilled foreign workers at the development.
“I can see the signs of what they’re doing, but you know, tell them cut it out,” he said.
“Get the training program going because we’re not going to have these kids sitting on the side of the street watching people working at Baha Mar and talking nuts about they’re going to get work permits for housekeepers and laborers.
“It shouldn’t happen.”
However, Robert "Sandy" Sands, senior vice president of external and governmental affairs at Baha Mar, said the resort has no plans to bring in foreign workers as bartenders, maids or laborers.
Sands, who had not heard the comments until The Nassau Guardian contacted him, said he was “surprised” by Mitchell’s statement.
“The work permits that we will pursue for non-Bahamian employees would be strictly in the area of senior, or middle management or technical skills or any other specialty positions with unique skills, as well as any other job categories that have [a] lack of qualified Bahamian applicants,” he said.
“I don’t think that there are any hotels in this country that have applied for maids, room attendants or bartenders in terms of work permits and I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future.”
Last week, a Baha Mar official said the property is concerned that there could be a labor shortage in several key areas by the time the mega resort opens.
Engineering, golf maintenance and food and beverage are all areas where executives have discovered a skills shortage for qualified Bahamians, said Kristin Wells, director at the Baha Mar Academy.
Baha Mar’s heads of agreement with the government allows the resort to have up to 200 work permit holders at the property, once the resort is operational, Sands said.
Sands added that Baha Mar has reached out to potential employees at high schools and universities and that brand training will start as soon as employees are recruited.
Mitchell said the government is committed to training workers to take on jobs that are mainly held by foreigners.
The Christie administration’s national training program is expected to launch in June, Mitchell said, giving the government at least a year to get scores of workers trained for available jobs at Baha Mar.
Baha Mar is set to open at the end of 2014.
Mitchell said businesses are not going to get work permits for skilled laborers unless they brought in an understudy to train with the foreign worker.
“The [work permit] policy is what it has always been, that Bahamians must have the first call on any job in the country and it is only when that skill is not available in the country that a work permit will be allowed,” he said.
“That’s the rule and that’s going to be followed as long as I’m sitting in this seat.”