Jun 15, 2011 News
– report says
(Trinidad Guardian) Haitians, Jamaicans and Guyanese nationals are being “trafficked” into Trinidad and Tobago under the cover of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
They are being rapidly absorbed by registered private security firms.
This was the claim made by the Estate Police Association (EPA), General Secretary, David Webber, who said in many instances the passports of the “trafficked” persons were seized, leaving them at the mercy of their employers.
Webber said field research indicated about two years ago there was an influx of illegal nationals into the security industry. Many of them were duped into believing they were entering T&T as tradesmen which was permitted by the CSME.
“In recent times we have seen them coming in as tradesmen, like masons and carpenters, but there is no work for them so they end up in security companies. “We know for a fact that some of these companies and we know of a few are in fact registering them as tradesmen so they could get work permits for them but put them instead to work as security officers,” Webber revealed. “The work permit they would have been given is not for them to perform the duties of the security officer. They are operating in the country illegally.”
He said to avoid detection owners of security companies would send a representative to do the registration of work permits. Describing the situation as well orchestrated, Webber said there were “scouts” working with the private security firms to source outside labour. He said in some instances advertisements were placed promising “good pay and perks.” Once in Trinidad, however, the nationals are placed in “safe houses” with minimal comforts and conveniences.
“They are charged a hefty sum for room and board so that these people are working for next to nothing. They are paid below the minimum wage and are virtually slaves. It is our information that there is one “safe house” in San Juan and one in Fyzabad,” Webber said. He said one of the ploys for the illegal nationals not to be detected by the authorities was making them work only night shifts.
“The companies hide them during the day and only bring them out at night when the potential for them being identified is less. The officers are also instructed not talk to anyone because their accents would give them away,” Webber added.
He identified a popular mall along the East West Corridor where only foreign nationals, including people from Nigeria and Ghana, are hired. “There is a particular company only Africans were hired. When we investigated they were engaging the services of Nigerians who came through Moruga by entering the country illegally and placed to work by a company who had the contract for the mall.”
Firms who “traffick” these foreign nationals charge exorbitant fines which the EPA has deemed illegal. “If there is a family emergency and the officer left work or did not come to work and no call was made to the employer there is a $150 fine. Fines are also imposed for reaching to work late. We have also found that some operation managers, who are not the owners of the companies, have been creating these fines to pocket the money. These people came here with the offer of good jobs but when they arrived their passports were seized and they are subdued by threats so they have to conform to what is happening,” Webber said.
The culprits who bring in the foreign nationals, Webber charged, are “low end” security firms that comprised the bulk of the private protective service industry. Describing the industry as virtually self-regulatory, Webber said repeated appeals and proposals to Government to implement proper legislation have not been heeded.
“The legalisation that exists has become archaic. It is irrelevant to what is happening in the security industry. “The client doesn’t care where the officers are coming from once the work is done and it is cost effective,” Webber said.
Brian Ramsey, senior regional director at Amalgamated Security Services Limited, said the high failure rate of drug testing continues to be the biggest challenge facing private security companies. According to Ramsey, many people who apply to become officers in the industry have failed to pass stipulated drug tests.
“That continues to be our biggest bar as many young people have failed because they either smoked marijuana or used cocaine,” Ramsey said. He also agreed that sourcing suitable labour, particularly where educational qualifications are required, was another challenge. “The difficulty for this industry is finding sufficient and suitable employees and that may lead many firms to the pressure of hiring illegal aliens,” Ramsey said.
Saying he had a “general concern”, Ramsey called on Government to tackle human trafficking not only in the security industry but in all spheres of the society.
“There are people with all sorts of accents working in gas stations and in supermarkets as well. “When I went to Charlotte Street I heard a range of accents in almost all the stores. Where are these people coming from and how are they coming into the country?” Ramsey asked.
President of the Downtown Merchants Association (DOMA) Gregory Aboud said he has “heard” the voices of new immigrants among sidewalk vendors. Aboud, however, said he could not make any connection between the presence of new immigrants and human trafficking.
“Those new immigrants that we have met seem quite happy to be here and we deduce from that fact that they may not be here against their will. But we would be very concerned that the difficult circumstances of immigrants and even our own citizens would make them more vulnerable to those that would take advantage of them because of their difficult situation,” Aboud said.
He expressed concern that there may be incidents of oppression and cruelty involving “hard-pressed immigrants,” adding that it is also another issue that warranted urgent attention.
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