28 July, 2008

St Lucia

Exploitation of St Lucian Technically Trained Workers. In November 2005, Anguilla expressed an interest in attracting technically qualified St Lucians to become engaged in the construction industry in Anguilla. We told Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony so. He responded with the hope that the St Lucian workers would build bridges of friendship when they came to work in Anguilla. He obviously thought it would all be done above board.

Shortly after, Anguillian contractors began to telephone technically qualified persons in St Lucia inviting them to come to work in Anguilla. From reports from my contractor friends, I thought the system was working well. Until now.

I have been receiving a disturbing number of reports about what appears to be a systematic scheme of exploitation of these St Lucian workers in the construction industry in Anguilla. It is also a fraud on the government revenue.

If it was only one person complaining, it might be discounted as a personal disappointment. But, two complaints, and confirmation of the essentials of the story from an independent source, are impossible to ignore.

The specific complaint is that certain Anguillian building contractors, one of them with a lot of influence, specialize in importing technically qualified St Lucians to work for them in Anguilla. The contractor pays for them to come to Anguilla. They are encouraged to come in to the island as tourists. They are categorized as “Caribbean visitors”. The Anguillian contractor introduces them to a senior officer in the Immigration Department. He applies for an extension of their visitor’s visa. He tells the workers that work permit applications are in the works. He puts them to work on his site on the assurance that he is permitted to do so. He can usually keep them illegally at work for about six months.

The scam is officially called a “one-month extension”. It is comparatively inexpensive. It can supposedly be renewed for a total of only three months, after which the worker has to go home. In theory, the Caribbean visitors are supposed to return, and start another three month period. None of this is properly explained to them. They continue to work in a sort of legal and ethical limbo.

The St Lucians in question are literate, technically qualified, and hard workers. Best of all, when they complain, they can be easily got rid of.

When they become insistent about getting properly paid, and their status in Anguilla regularized as promised, he then has them deported. The local authorities go along with this scam. After all, these workers are here illegally, aren’t they?

My enquiries indicate that the official line is that government has adopted a policy to “help our Caribbean brothers”. There is a dirty underbelly to this policy. The way it is implemented is to avoid the time consuming process of applying for work permits. No work permit application is ever made. You avoid the expense of paying for the work permit. You do not have to put up a large deposit for the return of the workers. No social security payments are ever deducted. No workmen’s compensation insurance ever covers them. They receive a cash payment in an underhand sort of way, trying to entrap them into complicity with some unmentioned sort of illegality. They initially go along with his scheme. After all, the contractor is a very important person in Anguilla.

This scheme, naturally, is only for the favoured friends of those with influence in Anguilla.

The Governor’s Office has been made aware of the exploitation. We do not know what, if anything, they have done about it. The Immigration Department and the Labour Commissioner’s Office, must have been aware of an immigration scam since it is at least two years old. Russel Reid, the Labour Commissioner, never sees these workers. He doesn’t usually hear about them. When he stumbles upon them by accident, he claims not to know what they are doing here. He is not known to have ever proceeded against any of these exploiters. Laureen Bryan, Chief Immigration Officer, has never been known to initiate prosecution of any Anguillian employer of illegal immigrant labour. They must accept responsibility for the public perception that they are turning a blind eye to it. At any rate, my information is that none of them has done a thing to put a stop to these activities, despite having received numerous complaints.

The way the contractors use the policy defrauds the government revenue of work permit fees. It unlawfully avoids paying social security contributions on wages and salaries. It is an evasion of regulations requiring police clearances and medical checkups. It deprives the workers of disability and other social security benefits. It turns them into unwitting criminals. It is a clever way of avoiding the announced moratorium on the granting of work permits. You simply do not apply for one. And, our public service authorities, at least suspecting all these details, have kept quiet.

You may say that we need not feel sorry for the St Lucians. What is happening to them is no worse than happened to thousands of Anguillian young men forced to work illegally in St Thomas in the old days. What is objectionable is that the fraud on the work permit policy is being facilitated by people at the top of government. The main perpetrators are the very men who helped to set the nation's policy. And, the regulators and law enforcement authorities turn a blind eye.

I have made enquiries of the officials. The Governor’s office’s response is that it is not true that they are doing nothing about the complaint. All other responses have been equally evasive.

If Dr Anthony only knew what was really going on, I wonder what he would say now!

When the same Anguillian youth we wonder about look at how rotten this whole system is, from the top to the bottom, is it any wonder they explode into violence?

They cry out, “Bun fiyah pon Babylon!”

I wonder, why would they say such a thing?


  1. We in Anguilla will not tolerate any form of exploitation of workers. We stood up for the Indian workers and we will stand up for any who is being exploited.

    This is the first time that I am hearing of this matter. Have you discussed it with the lawyers who demanded and got a 100% increase in the wages for the Indian Construction workers?

    I think that would be a good starting point.

  2. This is shocking. It appears that this is one of the four people who promised us in their 2005 Manifesto that they would ensure "compliance with the labour and immigration laws while permitting employed persons to achieve their full potential and just rewards for their work."

  3. Unbelievable! To think that such a thing is happening in the midst of all of this talk about a Caribbean Single Market and Economy.I wonder what the British Government would think about this situation. Why is it that we perpetuate these things by doing nothing? Is because the affected ones are “foreigners” I would want to believe that Anguillans are courageous enough to demand a stop to this madness.

  4. "This is a conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men."
    --Senator Joseph McCarthy, June, 1951


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