Monday, April 19, 2010

The 'Free Movement' Quiz For Caricom

Carrington sparks questions on labour mobility and help for Haiti

CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington last week chose to raise hopes - amid prevailing disappointments - for progress in the "free movement of Caricom nationals" of the dozen countries participating in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) project.

The optimism expressed by the secretary general has, however, to be considered in the context of caveats that serve to underscore the recognised need for more focused, collective efforts by governments to make stated commitment on planned migration and labour mobility a reality.

Carrington, Caricom's longest chief public servant - he is now in his 18th year as secretary general - was addressing last week's three-day meeting in Guyana of the 19th Council of Human and Social Development (COSHOD), held in conjunction with the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

At the meeting, which was concluded on Friday with Caricom's labour ministers in attendance, Carrington also thought it necessary to remind the Community's governments that "it is not enough for us to just be sorry" for earthquake-devastated Haiti, but to come forward with specific, "concrete pledges" to alleviate the burden of the Haitian people.

Let me address first the secretary general's assessment of what remains one of the more sensitive issues in Caricom's journey towards the laudable goal of establishing a seamless regional economy with the CSME.

While the public awaits the decisions reached at the COSHOD meeting, Carrington has stated that "free movement of labour and intra-regional migration" are "challenging" issues for deliberation.

'Movement' certificates

In recognising the anxieties of wage earners who remain excluded from the 10 approved categories for free movement within the CSME framework, Carrington pointed to the gains made which have resulted in the release of more than 6,000 Caricom skills certificates between 2006 and 2008.

A further increase is expected for 2010 because, he said, of the "expansion in the categories of wage earners who could now move across the region for economic activity".

But Secretary General Carrington would know that for all the expressed good intentions, data on the annual processing of skills certificates, as well as a number of applications yet to be addressed, are not readily forthcoming.

Additionally, frustration continues to be the name of the game in the absence of common legislation guaranteeing contingent rights for holders of approved skills certificates and members of their immediate family to access education, health and housing facilities.

Ironically, one of the governments among those failing to expedite the processes for free movement of labour and intra-regional migration is that of Dominica whose prime minister (Roosevelt Skerrit) has lead responsibility among Caricom leaders for "labour including movement of skills".

A yet unpublished 'country report' in support of full integration of Belize and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has, for instance, observed that while the government in Roseau was strongly in favour of the regional regime for labour mobility, "it needs to put in place the arrangements to facilitate accreditation and full mobility..."

Do not expect a listing of other defaulting governments from either the CSME unit dealing with this matter or the Community Secretariat itself.

But pertinent questions could be: How many of the 12 governments involved in CSME planning are at least 50 per cent ready with necessary arrangements for free movement of labour and intra-regional migration?

The reality is that while the expressed optimism by the secretary general can be appreciated, doubts and cynicism can only diminish, if not disappear, with EVIDENCE of relevant COLLECTIVE action.

Encouraging reminders

Yet, it is at least encouraging to have the Community's secretary general offering appropriate reminders on essential work agendas as he did this past week in relation to free movement of nationals within the CSME.

Also of relevance is Carrington's observation that "it is not enough for us (Caricom) to just be 'sorry' for Haiti (echoing a long-expressed sentiment of the calypsonian David Rudder).

But to tell it like it is may require raising questions about why - in the face of the destruction of Haiti by the earthquake of last January 12 - Caricom governments are yet to come forward with at least a draft plan on how to offer temporary immigrant status for a specified number of displaced Haitians.

With minor exceptions, what we seem to be facing at present is the typical scenario - prior to the earthquake disaster - of Haitians turning up illegally in a few Caricom states - Jamaica and The Bahamas in particular.

Perhaps former prime minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson, our 'Special Advocate for Haiti', should, in collaboration with the Community Secretariat, provide updates on the "concrete pledges of support" being received by the 'Special Support Unit for Haiti' established by Caricom and operating out of Jamaica.

April 18, 2010