Minister Wheatley made the pronouncement during an interview on the Honestly Speaking Radio Programme on ZBVI 780AM on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
He said: “In terms of the workforce, we as a government want to localise our workforce more. It is a more sustainable way to go about it. It took the hurricanes of 2017 and COVID-19 to bring that point home to us, that we should not continue on the path that we were on, where the workforce was kind of skewed when it came to local talent versus outside talent.”
He added: “The pattern we saw was not sustainable and studies show that pattern from past records is never sustainable. When you have a local population unemployed and the outside persons so to speak happily going to work, collecting checks and money and doing things, it always ends bad, every single time and we are trying to avoid that situation, and we are trying to find a better balance.”
He said, while the task is not easy, the process has to start at some point.
“You cannot tell me that all those persons on work permits are doing jobs that no BVIslander is qualified to do. If you recall, last year we renamed Labour to Department of Labour and Workforce Development because we are going through labour and immigration reform. One of the things we are going to do is we are automating the work permit process because right now that process takes up most of the manpower in the department. When we are through automating that process, it’s going to free up a lot of manpower to then start doing inspections.”
He explained that while business owners are supposed to hire more locals, this is not being done.
He pointed out that locals should be more cost effective for the business owner.
“You don’t have to pay rent, insurance and travel and all these stuff. It is cheaper to hire local persons, and we expect that to happen, but is it really happening? We are moving towards a higher ratio of locals and belongers in the workforce. I think right now it is probably 30 per cent locals, 70 per cent expats, that 30 needs to move to 70, and 30 per cent expats.”
In the same vein, he called on the business community to assist the government in their goal.
“Let’s make this a priority, let’s start shifting that ratio around because the current model of 30 to 70 is not sustainable,” he remarked.
Hon Wheatley also warned that there could be drastic measures if businesses fail to comply.
“If there is too much resistance we will be forced to do things like places like Cayman do, which is after five years, pack up and leave and never come back. That’s how they have solved their problem, and to me, that’s an extreme way of doing it. I don’t want to start there; if it is going too slow, it will force us to go draconian and say “you know what? You don’t want to move, so we will force you to move by limiting your work permits. I don’t want to go there like that because we know we must have outside talent, every country in the world must have outside talent.”
He said he wouldn’t argue if businesses hire specialised jobs that are hard to come by “but to sell ice cream? Or something as menial as to pack a shelf? To welcome somebody into your office? You cannot find anybody here who can do that? I'm really sorry, but I can't accept that.”
He informed that there is a consultant that is scheduled to come to the Territory to take on this task as soon as the border is open.
“The consultant should be on board, she should have been onboard already, but because of COVID-19 it had to be pushed back... Actually, we wanted it to be in place after the regularisation, but it didn’t happen, but sooner rather than later.”
Hon Wheatley said, currently, there are approximately 942 operational businesses and 171 that are non-operational. Of that figure, 972 are on Tortola, 94 on Virgin Gorda, 24 on Jost van Dyke, 13 on Anegada and on the surrounding cays, 10.
He said of the businesses that reported, the employment status of employees that have been retained stands at 8,962. The number that has been released stands at 294 while 1,263 have been laid off with 175 persons that are unspecified.
Hon Wheatley said, of that figure, 6,186 are work permit holders, while 3,161 are VIslanders/Belongers.
The number of work permit-exempt holders is 926 as of July 31, 2020.
As of August 17, 2020, there are a total of 8,053 work permits, and 789 represents work permits pending or processing.