‘Pointe - we need a site headcount’

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Deputy Chief Reporter 

krussell@tribunemedia.net

WITH the government unable to reveal the current ratio of Bahamian to foreign workers at The Pointe development, Bahamian Contractors Association President Leonard Sands yesterday said officials must descend on the downtown Nassau project to conduct a physical count of its workers to determine whether the Heads of Agreement is being adhered to.

In an interview with The Tribune Mr Sands said local contractors are angered to have been neglected in the construction phase of the project.

This comes as government officials have failed to give answers on The Pointe’s worker complement in response to a Tribune investigation which raised questions about whether China Construction America (CCA), the project’s developers, were following the Heads of Agreement clause when it comes to jobs.

He also slammed the Department of Labour, which last week said no physical checks have taken place at the compound since May 2017.

The Heads of Agreement between CCA and the government states 70 percent of the workers are supposed to be Bahamian and 30 per cent should be foreign.

“The Pointe looks like Baha Mar part two,” Mr Sands said, “and that wasn’t good for us. When I say Baha Mar part two I am not talking about the project and the things that happened with CCA and the investor, no. We are talking about how it was built.

“We understood at that time that there was an arrangement. This developer got the financing and the financier said ‘hey you are going to use my money this is what comes along with it including this amount of people have to be employed here and we want the project to be done like this and only our guys can do it, we got that.’

“But The Pointe development is not the same bowl of oats. We are looking at typical construction coming out of the ground, pouring reinforced concrete columns and beams and slabs and block work. That’s the stuff we do every day in the Bahamas.

“But if you look at the site, the question we have to ask is we understand there is supposed to be a labour complement of Bahamians to foreign workers, that’s not happening and I dare anyone to tell me otherwise.”

Asked how he could surmise this, Mr Sands said with access to the roof top parking garage with views of the entire site, it is clear there are not many Bahamians working there.

“So when someone says the labour mix is supposed to be 70 percent Bahamians, 30 percent foreign, well where is that represented out there?

“It is one thing to say something in the Heads of the Agreement, but it is a totally different thing to police that and enforce it and I am saying that’s not happening out there. That’s the position I am holding until someone can prove to me different.”

He claimed these concerns were raised with the Department of Labour with no satisfactory outcome.

“Yes (we have) called and notified the Labour Board but the response is we haven’t done a survey since May 2017. We are almost at May 2018 and I am saying if you’re telling me that you are comfortable about leaving a situation that people are complaining about for a year to address it, then you are not really the person in charge there.

“I am saying walk on the site and ask the person who is in charge, the superintendent or the labour relations officer and say show me your head count – native Bahamians to Chinese workers because in your Heads of Agreement it should be 70/30.

“We want them to physically go down there and demand a physical headcount. In fact, they could invite the representation of the Bahamian Contractors Association along (and) we’d gladly go. Let us help you count if it seems to be a daunting task.”

Last week, Labour Minister Dion said his department did not have any evidence CCA has broken the agreed workforce ratio outlined in the HOA with the government for The Pointe.

At the same time, Financial Services and Immigration Minister Brent Symonette conceded the government had no idea how many foreign workers were engaged on the project.

More than a week ago Tribune photographers monitored who went on to the site and with the exception of three or four Bahamians and a guard at the gates of the development, everyone else appeared to be Chinese.

Previously, this newspaper observed workers on the site in both January and February and it was a similar story. Dozens of Chinese builders walked on to the site every day from a building, which lodges the workers opposite the development, and virtually no Bahamians were anywhere to be seen.

“We don’t have any evidence of that,” Mr Foulkes said when he was asked about concerns the workforce ratio was not being adhered to last Tuesday ahead of a Cabinet meeting. “There haven’t been any complaints made concerning that.”

Earlier in the interview he said: “The prime minister is concerned about the ratio but it is an agreement that we met in place that the former government signed off on, 30 (percent) to 70 percent. We are uncomfortable with that ratio but we have to honour the arrangement that the previous government made.”

Asked about the concerns, Mr Symonette said while the matter is one for the Department of Labour, he was not aware of any excessive amount of work permits being issued by immigration officials to CCA or The Pointe. He said it was something officials would look into.

Mr Symonette said he did not know how many foreign workers were on the site, explaining the current computer system does not allow officials to work out those figures.

However, he said by July, the Department of Immigration’s new system should be functional and the numbers would be readily available.