-by Svetlana Marshall-
With the country facing a growing shortage in skilled and semi-skilled workers, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) believes the Government needs to put the requisite systems in place now to allow for the large-scale importation of workers to address the shortage.
In an interview with News Source, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, Kester Hutson said the Construction, Agriculture, Gold Mining and Tourism Industries are among traditional sectors that are being hard hit by the labour shortage.
He linked the shortage to the country’s rapidly growing oil and gas sector, and explained that many skilled and semi-skilled workers are leaving the traditional sectors to take up jobs in oil and gas.
“The Oil and Gas Sector has certainly consumed quite a bit of our human resource from the traditional sectors, and so, we are aggressively working with the Government to formulate a strategy of how we can address this in the very short term because it is affecting the overall development of businesses and on a wider scope the country at large in economic growth,” the GCCI President said.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in a 2020 report, said Guyana needed at least 100,000 workers to realise its full growth potential. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that the country currently needs close to 200,000 workers to meet the demand for labour across sectors.
He said the shortage doesn’t augur well for the country’s economic growth and development, particularly in traditional sectors.
The Government, through the Diaspora Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been working with a wide cross-section of stakeholders to assess the labour market with the aim of addressing its needs and challenges. GCCI is among the stakeholders, and according to its President, the importation of labour is among short term solutions being considered.
“One of which will be importation of labour, which we consider as a lower hanging fruit. And, I understand the challenges that come with that, one of which is human trafficking and all the other negative impacts but I know the Government has to put systems in place, and we encourage them to see this as an urgent issue to address,” he said.
Hutson estimates that a significant percentage of the 200,000 workers needed, would have to be imported.
He said it is important for the Government to fast-track the process of putting the requisite systems in place to facilitate the large-scale importation of labour. However, he said it must be strategic.
“The Chamber has always taken a position of having this address a year ago, two years ago, and it is getting worse as time progresses. Collaboratively, with the Private Sector, we can certainly establish a strategy with the Government to narrow this gap and ensure that our productivity increases,” he said.
In addition to importation of labour, focus is also being placed on training to “up-skill” Guyanese workers.
But even as the country battles a shortage of labour, Mr. Hutson said GCCI remains concerned that many locals in various sectors are currently being underpaid. He said the Chamber has raised the issue with the Ministry of Labour, and together they have developed a protocol to resolve the issue.
“I know some level of monitoring and reporting is currently happening, and we encourage employers to respect the fact that locals are doing their part and they should be treated equally as expats and we are not budging from that. It is a matter of respect,” the GCCI President said.
The Government has indicated that as it continues to push its development programme, outside labour help will be needed. Already, some companies in the construction sector have imported specific categories of skilled labour.