Feb 15, 2013 News
Government yesterday insisted that the hiring of labour by any particular contractor is one that is ultimately left to the contractor’s discretion. The issue has to do with an ongoing row between the trade unions and the opposition parties over the hiring of Chinese employees exclusively to work on the construction of the Marriott Hotel in Kingston, Georgetown.
Yesterday, a mixture of union representatives, political parties and other activists protested in front of the construction site.
With controversy already over the actual project – including its feasibility and costs – the government has literally been on the back foot to explain this latest embarrassment.
The protests stem from the non employment of Guyanese labour on the project.
Over the weekend, Winston Brassington, Chief Executive Officer of Atlantic Hotel Inc. (AHI), the local government company that will manage the facilities, said that the use of an all Chinese labour force to construct the multi-million-dollar Marriott Hotel was just one of several conditionalities necessary for the facility’s efficient and speedy construction.
He also said that the lack of local skills and communication problems were the reasons why the contractor, Shanghai Construction Group (SCG), decided to bring in Chinese workers.
That particular statement immediately triggered abundant criticism, especially as SCG had not publicly said that there was a shortage of skills. There were no advertisements in the local newspapers.
Then on Wednesday, Labour Minister, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, speaking with another media house, and also defending the decision of foreign workers, said that the contractor was using “highly technical and advanced construction methods” and that it would be some time before Guyanese workers would learn these.
Yesterday, Government spokesman Dr. Roger Luncheon said that the issue of an all-Chinese labour force was not discussed with the government. He said that the government became aware when it was asked to process the applications for work permits and visas.
He said that the Ministry of Home Affairs which processes work permits would have utilised standard protocols in issuing them.
He noted that it is “reasonable” that most contractors would go for a labour force with which they are familiar. The fact that SCG opted to use Chinese workers came as no surprise to government, he said.
Dr Luncheon added that the convention is that contractors are responsible for recruiting their labour force. The contracts do not address this issue not do they dictate the issue of employment of locals.
He also admitted that it is not the practice for government to publish vacancies in the local media when processing work permits for foreign workers. Also, government does not specifically say in contract documents that foreign workers cannot be hired or that locals have to be employed.
Brassington has been under fire as head of NICIL/Privatisation Unit, which manages Government’s assets. He had explained that SCG won the bid to construct, from 23 other firms.
Initially, the price was US$65M, “but they were able to lower the cost to US$51M with the condition that they be able to control who they employ on the site,” a government release said last Friday.
In defending SCG’s decision to hire Chinese nationals, Brassington said that the company indicated that “(it) had examined the level of skills available for the project as well as the levels of productivity.”
Brassington added that while the company was being asked to employ locals, it was obvious that if the construction of the flagship hotel was to be completed within the specified time, there must be the flexibility of the input.
Since its inception, the project has been marred by dispute, with the Bharrat Jagdeo-led administration refusing to give details about the investors.
AHI has also refused to release the feasibility study that would justify the building of the hotel using over US$20M of state funds. Already, the government has advanced US$10M in 2011 to SCG for the construction and the combined opposition, which has a one-seat majority in the National Assembly, is threatening to take Parliamentary actions to ensure that state monies for the project is first approved there.
What is even more alarming, the opposition has been saying, is the fact that government does not know who the investors are, almost two years after releasing $2B in state funds and starting construction.
Local hoteliers have been complaining that a major project like this should not be funded by government as it is competing directly with private businesses that have sunk millions in similar ventures.
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