The Caribbean Community (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the human element of doing business in Member States

On the heels of an unfortunate but expected “release” of information on social media this past week about the purported effects of Barbados’ plans to implement CARICOM’s “Protocol on Contingent rights” (“the Protocol”) via the Caribbean Community (Amendment) Bill, 2019, it is imperative that the Barbados Government educate its citizens and residents about this new law.

Barbados along with Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname, signed on to the Protocol at the recently concluded 30th Inter-sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in Basseterre, St. Kitts.  Barbados has moved to immediately adopt the Protocol into its domestic law, which is currently at the Senate reading stage.

Currently the following persons fall into the category of skilled nationals who may move freely (without the requirement of a work permit) throughout Member States: graduates who have obtained at least a Bachelor’s Degree from a recognised university, media persons, artists, musicians, sports persons, nurses, teachers, artisans with a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (“CVQ”), holders of Associate Degrees and household domestics with a CVQ or equivalent qualification.  Coming out of the Special Meeting on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy held in Trinidad on December 3 and 4, 2018, Member countries agreed to include the following categories of persons to the list of  freely moving skilled nationals in the near future:  agricultural workers, beauty service practitioners, barbers and security guards.

Some of the rights granted are for the spouse (inclusive of common law unions) of the primary beneficiary (the skilled person) to work in the host country without the need for a work permit, that dependent children would have access to education on a non-discriminatory basis, that the primary beneficiary, spouse and dependent children would have access to primary health care in addition to the right to leave and re-enter the host country.

With regard to businesses which operate regionally, this new law adds a level of comfort to employees with families who are transferred to branches or subsidiaries in other islands.

An employee is likely to feel more inclined to accept a transfer or to apply for a position in another country without feeling stressed about leaving his or her family behind.  Once implemented correctly, concerns about the separation of families would be reduced significantly and in an ideal situation, eliminated.  In fact, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, stated at the St. Kitts meeting, “So the notion that only a spouse is to get the benefits of the rights, but dependents are not, is nonsense that carries us back to the separation of families to a time that we would want to forget rather than remember.”

Given the thrust toward health and wellness in the workplace throughout the region, it must be acknowledged that an important element of a well functioning business is to have a workforce whose mental health is considered by management.  An employee is less likely to function at his or her best if there is a worry about a spouse or children whose lives are negatively affected by their absence or there is the additional financial burden of constant expensive intraregional travel on weekends or for special occasions.

The Protocol and its corresponding domestic laws are also expected to address complaints from CARICOM nationals who currently live and work outside of their home countries and in spite of the fact that they are paying taxes in their country of work are unable to access basic services similar to their counterparts who are tax-paying citizens of that particular country.

While the Protocol is indeed welcomed, it would be irresponsible to dismiss the fact that each CARICOM Member State suffers from myriad internal and external threats which, when coupled with their status as small open economies, must be balanced with the new rights granted.  Rising or high levels of crime, varying levels of economic success and in some cases, yawning divides between rich and poor, are all high on the agenda at the domestic level for our governments.

The need for education at all levels of society via various forms of media about what our countries have agreed to at a regional level must not be underestimated.  Barbadians are currently grappling with high levels of gun crime and an economy which is clawing its way back from the brink of certain death.  Those who live here are more concerned about the rudiments of every day life, the high cost of living, a broken public transportation service, over-populated classrooms and a burdened public health system.  Our leaders must work to bring our social services to a level commensurate to the taxes paid.

The minds of Barbadians and daresay, citizens of other CARICOM States are not necessarily attuned to the fact that as a region, particularly in light of the new direction of the multilateral trading system, CARICOM has no choice but to combine its resources to face the challenges coming its way.   One way to face these challenges is that our people must be provided with an environment not only conducive to business but one which allows for a comfortable standard of living throughout the region, hence the Protocol.

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