The former Smugglers Cove resort is being transformed into the Royalton Hotel. Construction has been ongoing over the past nine months but yesterday there was a certain degree of employee unrest, spurred by the dissatisfaction of a sub-contractor and workers who were fired following protest against fortnightly salaries extended to them. The STAR engaged the protesting contractor Henry Louis in an interview and asked him about the trigger for this unrest. Louis readily disclosed, “They have paid us at a rate where we have gotten frustrated and they keep bringing more people in from overseas; we have Jamaicans, Guyanese and Trinidadians working here.
“What I would like to know is whether all the foreign workers they have brought in from overseas solely to work on this project have work permits” Louis said. He asserted that the majority employed with the construction project have been brought onto the island void of legal employment authorization. He exclaimed, “Do they have permission to work here? We want to know if they have permits.”
According to Louis he is often paid less than the value of his work. “For instance, if after they have measured the work my workers have produced it calculates to $40,000, they pay $20,000. These men are very hard workers. When they paid us on Friday the money did not match the expected salaries, so I explained the situation to the guys. Those who have 14 days would be short of $400, those 12 days, $300 and so on and it trickled on to the labourer.”
The contractor went on to explain to the STAR that his men have been employed doing finishing work on the project. According to him, the work which his workers have produced, has been measured work, and when the labour is measured and assessed, it falls short of their expected salaries. “The foreigners working here have no complaints,” he told the STAR. “They have hired Saint Lucians with them and the Saint Lucians tell me they are getting it really good under their employment. They pay them well.” He continued to share a scenario: “One worker has told me that for a fortnight he made almost $3,000 working with the Trinidadians.” However, according to Louis, Saint Lucians doing similar work have been complaining that they aren’t making enough money and are being considerably underpaid and financially violated.
When asked about the conclusion of the matter he shared, “They have decided to pay us off for everything, including our one-week back pay.” Louis says their future collective position is uncertain. “We do not know what will happen hereafter, whether they will tell us to stay out of their gates or employ us again”, he confessed. The sub-contractor, who employs 40 workers, concluded by saying, “I laid off some men previously under the instruction of management and they are due to collect their salaries today.”
Louis maintains that the rest of the contractors have not taken a stand for fear of losing their jobs.
Paul Tobierre, another local contractor, told the STAR, “I have been made to understand that the reason they have to bring in foreigners is because they cannot find qualified men on-island to do the work. I feel this is an insult! Jobs such as stud work, metal studding, drywall, mudding and tiling – Saint Lucian labourers are qualified enough to undertake. We in Saint Lucia have qualified men to do whatever this project entails, but NH, the construction company, doesn’t pay. Locals here are being underpaid.”
Tobierre considers it an injustice for government to permit such an occurrence. “This is wrong for our government to allow such a thing,” he told the STAR, “because if they say they are alleviating unemployment, they cannot bring so many foreigners nto our country.” He added, “I am sure this will never happen in Trinidad; to bring so many Lucians into Trinidad when Trinidadian men can do the work. That is totally wrong!”
Tobierre went on to state that ‘while we are Caribbean men, Caribbean people and have no issue with Trinidadians coming to work’, his disdain is at the number of Trinidadians brought in for the project and displacing Saint Lucians. “What I am told,” he revealed, “and I got it from good grounds, there are about 150 Trinidadians working and of them only ten have work permits.”
Tobierre is of the view that both the media and the Immigration Department should investigate the matter. “They need to find out how many foreigners on this project have work permits whereas Saint Lucians are qualified to do the very jobs they are doing. “I think Saint Lucians should be given priority,” he concluded.
Last week the prime minister of Saint Lucia, Kenny Anthony, told the nation that ‘some 700 Saint Lucians are employed at the Royalton at Cap Estate’.