GOVERNMENT SAYS ‘NO’ TO LOW WAGES TO BUILD ANGUILLA COMMUNITY COLLEGE
The already long-delayed Anguilla Community College has suffered another setback in its construction as the Government and the Chinese company, which won the bid, are at an impasse.
The Government is absolutely opposed to the low wages being proposed for Anguillian skilled and unskilled workers, and the company appears unwilling to pay the higher market-value wages that the local workers are accustomed to earn in the construction industry. The Chinese Jiangsu Geology and Engineering Company, which is registered in Grenada, is said to want to pay the Anguillian workers at the lower rates in other regional islands, but the Anguilla Government is insisting that such rates do not represent a yardstick for local labour prices and that “one size does not fit all”.
The money, to construct the Community College, which amounts to some 3.5 million US dollars, is a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank to the Anguilla Government. The three construction companies short-listed for the contract were an Anguillian company which withdrew before the bidding process; a Canadian company; and the Chinese company which was in fact awarded the 18-month building contract by the CDB.
In the absence of the Minister of Home Affairs and Labour, Mrs. Cora Richardson Hodge, The Anguillian newspaper spoke this week with Mr. Evans McNiel Rogers, Minister of Social Development and Acting Chief Minister; and Mr. Rommel Hughes, the local Project Coordinator.
“There is a lot of talk around labour issues and I have been hearing 50-60 EC dollars for a labourer, and 100 -120 EC dollars for a mason,” Mr. Rogers said. “I don’t think you can get anybody to work for that at this point in time, in Anguilla, and to survive. A labourer, for example, who may have a family and working for 50 or 60 EC dollars a day, cannot live on that pay. We, who live in Anguilla and know the cost of living here, would know that there are hardly any Anguillians who, even though the economic climate is sluggish, would be able to survive on those sorts of wages.
“If the taxpayers of Anguilla must pay the CDB loan, there must be something beneficial for them who are going to pay it back. You cannot bring in massive numbers of Chinese when local people are not working. I want the people of Anguilla to know that, as a Government, we are cognisant of what is out there on the street with respect to labour and unemployment. In terms of the labour issues, this project must be sorted out. It makes no sense for us to put the taxpayers of Anguilla to repay a loan and have people coming in from further afield to do the building [of the Community College]. It is understandable that the company would have some key people [up to 10] on the job, but it must not be a significant number.”
Mr. Rogers said that he and Mr. Rommel Hughes had discussions with a partner in the Chinese construction company and an interpreter, both of whom said they were returning to Grenada and China to report on their discussions in Anguilla and the Government’s position. “We were absolutely clear with the contractor, as well as the interpreter, with respect to what is required in Anguilla, “Minister Rogers asserted. “What would apply to Grenada or Dominica, in terms of wages, really and truly cannot be applicable to Anguilla. One size does not fit all.”
The Minister continued: “I have no doubt that Anguillians can build a project like the Community College. It is not a massive project of 10 or 12 million US dollars. I think it is something like 3.5 or less than 4 million US dollars and our workers here can do it.
“The fundamental thing is this: Only one Anguillian contractor actually qualified for the bidding [but withdrew]. I am concerned that for the quality of workers we have in Anguilla, that we don’t have any more construction companies which could step up to the plate and make bids for projects like this – or even bigger projects. They can build a hotel but, of course, that involves investors’ capital. It is a different situation because the Caribbean Development Bank has certain requirements and standards for the bidding process and so on. We must, as a people, knowing the quality of work we can do, be able to put our hand up and bid for those sorts of projects. That is troubling because of the three finalists there were one Anguillian contractor, one Chinese company out of Grenada and one Canadian company; and we have so many contractors and construction workers here in our beautiful island.”
The ground-breaking ceremony for the Community College should have already taken place, but was postponed mainly as a result of the labour issues between the Ministry of Labour and the Chinese company. “It was hoped that we would have signed the contract at the end of January,” Mr. Hughes explained. “Since then, I have been trying on several occasions to get the company’s representatives to come to Anguilla for a pre-construction meeting with myself as the Project Coordinator, and the Supervisor and Construction Engineer for the project, Mr. Brian Begg, out of Barbados and contracted by the CDB. We had our first meeting with the representatives of the Chinese company, (on January 30) and the Ministry of Labour, to look primarily at the labour requirements and we thought we had an arrangement as to what those requirements would look like.”
Mr Hughes pointed out, however, that both parties eventually reached an impasse. He went on: “The company has proposed to pay between 90 and 120 EC dollars a day to masons, carpenters and the like; and the Ministry of Labour’s response has been ‘no, that can’t work. That’s not a living wage in Anguilla. It needs to be something more acceptable to the marketplace to ensure that you can attract the requisite skills and knowledge required’. So far they [the Chinese company’s representatives] have been very hesitant to move in that respect.”
Mr. Hughes released a letter from Mr. Begg who, following advice from the Ministry of Labour, set out a number of conditions for the contractor regarding the employment of workers. Those conditions include the following:
• “Project work managers: The members of this category would be a maximum of ten (10) for which work permits would be granted by the Ministry of Labour, upon receipt of the appropriate documentation. The Management team will be expected to manage, direct and control work on the construction site from the contractor’s perspective. The contractor will be at liberty to procure members of their management team from anywhere using any method they choose.
• “All the unskilled labour for the construction of the ACC will be procured from available labour force resident and legally qualified to work in Anguilla.
• “The skilled labour required for the construction of the college should be procured from the available skilled labour force resident and legally qualified to work in Anguilla in the first instance. Where it can be demonstrated, by the contractor, to the Ministry of Labour that such skilled labour is not available in Anguilla, then that specific skilled labour(s) may be procured regionally or internationally.
• “The method to be employed for soliciting and procuring local labour, either skilled or unskilled, will be by way of placing adverts in the local media describing the jobs available – with their respective job descriptions and the required experience for both skilled and unskilled personnel, all as required by the Laws of Anguilla.”
It is hoped that the labour issues, referred to above, may eventually be satisfactorily resolved to the approval of the Anguilla Government. This would probably avoid any need to seek a review of the contract for the construction of the long-delayed Anguilla Community College.