CARICOM member states should suffer no major disruption from the free movement of labour and skills provided under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), says Steven Mac Andrew, movement of skills/labour specialist with the CSME Regional Unit.
According to Mr. Mac Andrew, CARICOM nationals will always go wherever they feel they have better opportunities and if these ‘greener pastures’ happen to be within the CSME, this should be welcomed. “Every CARICOM national who stays in this region, it’s a benefit to the region, instead of going abroad where we might not benefit as much from their knowledge and skills,” he points out.
He tells JIS News, that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas makes provision for countries experiencing an inflow of skills, which they may not be able to handle. “There are certain mechanisms in place. If any member state for example is experiencing an inflow, which they might not be able to handle, they will have the right to go to the Council for Trade and Economic Development and request a temporary suspension of any element of the CSME regime”.
In addition, he notes that a development fund is being put in place to assist less advanced states to reach certain levels of developments, “so that the stimulus of persons to move will be less and less, because we want to have a certain level of economic development in all member states. We don’t want some to proceed and gain more development and others to remain behind.”
Also on the issue of brain drain, Programme Manager for the Regional CSME Unit, Ivor Carryl states, “this (Revised) Treaty talks about a Single Market and Economy that is market-led and that should be internationally competitive on the basis of market rules. If you are going to be part of this system, one of the things you have to learn to accept is the outcomes of what the market will do and one of the things that the market will do is channel people and the other factors of production to those places where those factors are going to get the highest return”. He says that unless member states were prepared to accept the concept of the market working this way, “we are going to always have this difficulty”. In spite of this, he points out, “the safeguards will allow you to take action if it appears that damage or injury could be done that might be difficult to repair”. Continuing, Mr. Carryl explains that as a region, “we have to work on this idea that we are no longer talking about a national space, we are talking about a regional space in which you have the same right as a Trinidadian to do anything you want in that space. For all practical purposes, a person who is from Kingston, has the same rights to do business, if he goes to Bridgetown, as if he was still in Kingston, and that is the issue we have to work on”.
Turning to the matter of skills certificates, Mr. Mac Andrew informs that once there was full free movement, there will be no need for a skills certificate. In the meantime, proposals have been made to expand the eligible categories for skills certificates. In November 2004, the CARICOM Heads agreed that there was need to expand the eligible categories and the Prime Minister of Dominica was mandated to lead the task of developing proposals for the expansion of free movement.
In 2005, proposals were developed and at a recent meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in Guyana, member states were asked to complete national consultations on the proposal with a view to report to the inter-sessional meeting of the conference of Heads of government. “The proposals basically cater for expanding free movement between 2006 to December 2008. By 2008, we should have our full free movement. The proposal also catered to the fact that they wanted to lower the bar, meaning persons with associate degrees, diplomas, and from there on go to (Caribbean Examination Council) CXC levels”.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mac Andrew advises CARICOM nationals that it was best to have a skills certificate from their home country, because “once you arrive (in another country), you will be granted the six-month entry, but you will also have the right to start working immediately.” If nationals arrive without a certificate however, they will have to await the outcome of the process of confirmation and approval by the receiving state, before they can work. But, even those that arrive with skills certificates may be required to undergo a verification process in the receiving country. “So, there will be another check when you go to another member state, but they will not issue you with another certificate, but simply stamp the one issued (by Jamaica or another member state). Once that is done, you will be granted an indefinite entry by the immigration department there, meaning that you can leave and re-enter the receiving member state without going through the whole process again,” Mr. Mc Andrew explains.
Approved categories at this point, include university graduates, sportsperson, actors, musicians, media workers, craft persons, and self-employed CARICOM nationals. These groups have the right to move within the CSME, to seek work or to engage in gainful employment as a wage earner or non-wage earner. In Jamaica, eligible persons may go to the Ministry of Labour’s Work Permit Department with relevant documents and apply for the certificate. The Ministry will then process the application and on the basis of the documents, which have been submitted, there may be further checks. “They will then issue you with a certificate, once they are satisfied that you are indeed one of the approved categories,” Mr. Mac Andrew states. Application take between four to six weeks to process.
In terms of taxes, the labour specialist informs that taxes are paid at the source of income. “The agreement basically provides for the fact that you pay where the economic activity is being undertaken,” he says, adding, “for example, if you are going to Antigua to do a consultancy there, then you will have to pay taxes in Antigua, but once you return to Jamaica, on the basis of that agreement, you don’t have to pay here in Jamaica”. Proof of tax compliance in the country of economic activity should be presented to the relevant authorities in the national’s home country. Presently, six countries have completed the required processes to bring the Single Market aspect of the CSME into effect in their territories as of January 2006. The countries are: Barbados, Jamaica, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Guyana. Another six countries, mainly those in the eastern Caribbean, are expected to complete these necessary tasks by March, so that the CSM will be in effect in all territories by March 31.