Alongside Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, DSH Chairman Teo Ah Khing headed a media press conference earlier this month that sought to address public concerns relating to the proposed development. On the subject of job guarantees the prime minister said, “We control the labour force through the work permits. If in fact there is insufficient local labour available, only then will foreign workers be employed. That would also apply if we don’t have workers with particular technical expertise.”
Additionally: “There’s a process by which the Labour ministry operates. There will be nothing in the final agreement which will bypass that process.”
The prime minister took the opportunity to remind reporters he had “lamented repeatedly” about the number of people that had to be brought to the island, particularly in the case of the Royalton Hotel.
“They were brought in simply because they could not find qualified local people to do the available jobs. So our job is to have training programmes to ensure we don’t have to bring people into Saint Lucia.”
A reporter asked if the PM was “open to putting labour force guarantees into the agreements”. His response: “I’ve already told you there is a protocol already in place that protects local workers. That protocol is enforced by the Ministry of Labour.”
DSH CEO Khing stepped in at this point. Referencing his company’s investments in Switzerland, he said labour was so scarce there that his company had decided to assist by partnering with the Swiss School of Management.
“The Swiss School of Management attracts students and talent from all over the world,” he said. “They are trained in hospitality, chefs, and so on, and that’s what I foresee happening in Saint Lucia. Maybe we could, like the prime minister has suggested, have several of these schools to upgrade our local labour force, so that they themselves can also be involved in the process of development, have the possibility of advancement from waiter to manager level. They need to be trained somehow, and we are very happy to work with appropriate institutions.”
Referencing the opening of the Royalton that had reportedly resulted in another hotel losing several workers, Khing said, “That’s not what we want to happen here. There is an opportunity for overall skilled labour to upgrade and the process should start as quickly as possible. It doesn’t mean that when we have a hotel, then we start looking for people. We must start recruiting in advance. Desert Star is committed. We are committed to do that. It sounds very unreal, but it’s what we are. If you go to the hotel in Switzerland and interview the hotel community of about 200 residents, everybody loves us, because we are part of them. We do not import foreign elements into their hotel. You guys can go do some research on that.”
In closing, Chastanet explained that the purpose of the hospitality school in the south was in preparation for developments like DSH. “We’ve already started the process, and part of the NICE monies have been moved into an apprenticeship programme in which we’re supporting the training of these students. The hope is to send them to existing hotels, and also the cruise industry. We knew there was going to be a huge demand for workers, and we don’t have them now. We’ve just graduated 150 kids from the south; the response has been phenomenal – all of them have been employed. We’re looking to bring that number up to 500. We’re not just saying it, the actions have already started to support what we’re saying.”