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Govt has ‘difficulty’ with Bimini’s foreign labor levels

MP for Bimini says govt is ‘stuck’ with terms of old agreement, hopes to maximize Bahamian opportunities
  • Obie Wilchcombe.

Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 28, 2013

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Suggesting the Christie administration has a “difficulty” with the levels of foreign labor at the Resorts World Bimini construction site, a Cabinet minister has suggested that these levels are governed “to a large degree” by agreements reached with Bimini Bay developers RAV Bahamas, under previous administrations.

Responding to concerns raised that Biminites may be losing out on construction jobs on the site to workers who are reportedly primarily from the Dominican Republic, Obie Wilchombe, minister of tourism and MP for Bimini, said the government finds itself “stuck” in an agreement that “dictates what happens”.

“It’s all about the fact that we are still managed to a large degree by the agreement reached by former administrations where you have to allow for a certain amount of foreign employees – I think the number is 100 or thereabouts – but the truth is we’ve had that for an amount of time.

“I think we generally accept in our country that we need certain expertise, and what we don’t have, we bring in. But we’ve always had a difficulty with the number but that’s in the agreement, and that’s very difficult to move away from.

“What we seek to do with the developers is speak to them and say, ‘Get more Bahamians involved.’ Right now there is a significant number of Bahamians involved, say there are 300 Bahamians, there are significantly less foreigners, but it goes back to the agreements. When you are stuck in these agreements like Baha Mar... what do you do? You have to work with them, but at the same time, we have an awesome responsibility as a country to prepare our people for opportunities. But there are times we are stuck with agreements and the agreements dictate what happens. It goes back to an agreement long ago and we are trying to get this product completed.”

Wilchcombe said that the government hopes to gain a better insight into what skills exist in the country, as part of an effort to increase Bahamian participation in foreign investment projects.

“What we are seeking to do through the Ministry of Labour is that we understand what we have available. We can’t continue to have investors come into the country... we want them to invest, but there has to be a dual partnership where they understand that we want Bahamians to have opportunities.”

In the addendum to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the North Bimini Ferry Terminal, the 1,000-foot pier and 4.5-acre island made of dredged material that is now under construction on Bimini to accommodate Resorts World Bimini’s ferry, it states that around 10 to 30 percent of all labor employed in the construction of the offshore facility will be Bahamian.

“A total of 45 to 60 construction workers are proposed during the offshore work. Construction of the three primary components of the project (pier construction, sheet-pile island creation and dredging) is to be carried out largely by international firms, with specialized skill in these areas of construction (e.g. Boskalis or Great Lakes); as such there will be a temporary influx of foreign workers.

“Permanent employment has been estimated to exceed 600 employees; of those 600 permanent employees, over 90 percent are anticipated to be Bahamian. All measures will be taken to provide work to Bahamians first, where feasible.”

Elsewhere the EIA states: “Bimini Bay currently employs approximately 264 persons, however, not all of these are Bahamians. Of this 264 total, 97 percent are Bahamian. Total employment at this stage of the casino development, is 174. Of this 174 person total, 97 percent are also Bahamian.”

Wilchcombe said it is the government’s intention to do what is in the “best interest of all people” in Bimini.

“It might not always appear that way and usually you don’t see the full impact until the entire project is finished, but I believe Bimini is heading towards an era in this country where you are going to see self sustainability. You are going to see growth in tourism, increases in numbers you’ve never seen before, and not just from the ferry, but the airlift.”

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