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Oct 18, 2017

Guatemalan Workers Giving Headaches over Procedure

The Labour Department has a standing relationship with the two industries most in need of working labour – banana and citrus. But according to Commissioner Ivan Williams, there are concerns involving the employment of workers from neighboring Central American countries, particularly Guatemala. As we have reported, there are questions of whether Guatemalans seeking to become Belizeans have rescinded their original citizenship. But even the 2012 agreement on migrant workers with Guatemala still has snags and requires, according to Williams, a more multisectoral effort and approach.

 

Elena Smith, Senator for Trade Unions and Civil Society

“Based on the policy, Commissioner – you’ve cited different areas of the policy, do you believe that the policy is a good one, or do you see where there are areas that can be improved?”

 

Ivan Williams

Ivan Williams, Labour Commissioner

“I think the policy in my view is a very good one. As a matter of fact, we intend to improve it in relation to doing things a bit better for industry work permits; I think we can improve on that end. Because we have been having some challenges with the industries; the industries in particular have always come to us to say that they need a consistent and readily available supply of labour in times of need, when they are harvesting and need there. The bulk of the work permits comes as a result of the requests coming out of the industry. The porous nature of the borders that we have with Guatemala begs for people to come over in many respects, irregular, undocumented, and in some instances, the farmer would then seek to regularize. And we feel that there should be a more proactive approach, and the industries have indicated to us too, that if we can enter into some kind of bilateral agreement – as a matter of fact, my understanding back in 2012, we had been advocating at the Department, based on requests coming from the industries to set up a particular migrant worker program to address that. But it requires a multi-agency approach, it requires the Ministry of Agriculture, all those industries and so involved, that is something we are looking at and we need to complement in the policy, or to create a special migrant worker program. We tried in 2012 – you will recall that the Prime Minister signed the Placencia accord in which we tried to establish a bilateral agreement with Guatemala for the movement of agricultural workers. The situation in Guatemala didn’t allow us to proceed – as a matter of fact, because it is a bilateral agreement, you need the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you need member states for that to work – in other words, there has to be – for example, under migration law, there has to be a sending and a receiving country, which means that the sending country, for example Guatemala, will have to prepare all it’s citizens, screen them, make sure that they are coming and we know who are coming. And on this side we prepare our labour market information in terms of the demand coming from the employer. So it requires a kind of approach where there is an understanding that you are coming under a specialized kind of program, you’ll be working for x number of months or a year. So I can see where we can improve by working on something like that, a kind of migrant worker program. I don’t see it happening at the bilateral level right now, but as we speak, as a matter of fact, we met with the Ministry of Agriculture some four months ago, along with the industry, and everybody was enthused about having an arrangement like that. So I think it’s just a matter of time that we will be able to put in place a system and a structure to more address the movement of migrant people across the country.”

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