By Lesroy W. Williams

Observer Reporter 

On New Year’s Day 2006, six of the 15 Caricom States, namely, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and Suriname signed on to the Caribbean Single Market (CSM).

At the beginning of 2006, the other Caricom States did not sign on to the CSM for a variety of reasons. The six countries making up the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) which includes St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda joined in June after some of their concerns were addressed.

Their concerns were mainly to do with the vulnerability of their small societies and economies against competition from their larger Caricom partners like Jamaica and Trinidad.

The Bahamas opted out, and Haiti and Montserrat are not in.

The CSM is the first step towards what is expected to evolve into an economic union- the CSME (Caribbean Single Market and Economy) by 2015.

The objective of the CSM is to facilitate the free movement of goods, services and people.

Let’s look at the free movement of people. Who can move?

The Conference of Heads of Government of Caricom has decided that University graduates, media workers, sportspersons, artistes, musicians, teachers and nurses who are Caricom nationals are eligible to move and work freely within the Community. Teachers and nurses are not given

A Caricom National is a citizen by birth, descent or naturalization; or a national of; or a person belonging to a Member State of the Community (Article 32.5 of the Revised Treaty).

The eligible categories of workers have the right to seek and engage in gainful employment in any of the Member States, which are part of the CSME arrangements. In order to move within the CSME, the approved categories of workers are required to obtain a Certificate of Recognition of CARICOM Skills Qualification as provided for in the CARICOM Skills National Acts of Member States. The certificate will facilitate free movement into and within member States as it would provide Immigration Officials with proof that a CARICOM National belongs to the approved categories under the CSME.

A Caricom National with a Certificate of Recognition of CARICOM Skills Qualification, who is seeking to enter another Member State, will be granted entry for a definite or indefinite duration. When the Skills Certificate is issued by the designated Minister of their home country or another Member State, CARICOM Nationals will be granted entry for six months, during which period the host country has the right to verify that the person indeed belongs to one of the eligible categories. Caricom Nationals will be granted indefinite entry when the host country is satisfied that the person is indeed a Skilled Caricom National.

Workers, who are not yet eligible for free movement, will have to apply for a work permit. Once they have found employment and have a job letter in hand, they must initiate the applicable procedures as laid out in relevant Immigration and Labour Acts in Member States before accessing employment. The permits are usually issued for a specific job and for a specific period.

The success of the CSME depends on a well-integrated labour force where workers are treated equally in the host country and enjoy the same fundamental rights at work as a national.

Caricom Member States, which are also members of the ILO have all subscribed to the fundamental rights at work which are embodied in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, namely:

·         the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation

·         freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining

·         the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour

·         the effective abolition of child labour

A Caricom National, who is a worker, must be insured in the Member State where he or she is employed and must therefore make contributions to the respective social security organization. In some Member States, social security organizations are referred to as national insurance agencies. Caricom Nationals are entitled to the same benefits as nationals of the host country, as provided by the respective social security organization.

All of this sounds good in theory but the problem comes with the implementation of the theory. As mentioned in my article last week, the CSME is a work in progress. However, the concern remains the rate at which it is progressing. It must be agreed however that in order for the CSME to work it cannot simply be a matter of governments working but people’s attitude towards the CSME must change to bring about its progress.

Within Caricom Member States we tend to be xenophobic. A few years ago while staying in Antigua, it was common to hear Antiguans tell non-Antiguans that “me no bang no water fi come ya”.  Such unwelcoming and unaccommodating language especially for a country whose mainstay is tourism is deplorable. Such attitude within popular culture works against regional integration.

Just recently, someone who works in the department of National Security was overheard telling another individual that there are three countries that are looked upon with suspicion when entering the Federation of St.Kitts and Nevis. The countries the individual referred to are Jamaica because they import crime with them, Dominicans (people from the Dominican Republic) because they import prostitution and Vincentians because they import drugs according to the common perception. I was appalled. Such stereotyping and stigmatization does not advance the regional integration process that the CSME has as its objective.

There are some concerns that are legitimate. Some legitimate concerns have to do with imbalance in terms of trade, economic development and migration. The larger islands, with a bigger economy are going to benefit substantially since they produce more, they have a bigger job market and they are more developed.

According to Dr. Timothy Harris, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, there are still problems at ports of entry within the Caricom Member States. Minister Harris has called for a more enlightened approach to inter-regional travel by Caricom Nationals.

“In the context of where we say we are going and what we are committed to, there is a need certainly in my view for a more enlightened immigration policy, which basically treats persons within Caricom in a courteous and civilised way,” Dr Harris said.

A Hassoo of West Coast, Guyana had this to say about the CSME.

“Prior to the implementation of the CSME, there was a great hype as to the changes it will bring about. I do acknowledge it’s still ‘early days’, however the impact to date has been disappointing. This goes to show the caliber of leaders we have in Caricom: people with very limited vision and ability to inject life into regional ventures. It may be worth the while to examine the E.U and their way of doing things. I think bigger economies are afraid to commit themselves for fear of losing their prestige and regional status. Regional progress has been severely curtailed by a high level of distrust over the years. It’s time we stand up and be counted. We need to up the ante and think big (not that, o my God all those Guyanese will flock to our country). Look at the level of dignity that was shown to the Poles and other new European member of state by England and others” (Taken from BBC’s Have Your Say– 6th Feb 2007).

The Conference of Heads of Government of Caricom has decided to broaden the eligible categories to other workers. The year 2009 has been targeted by Caricom for the full and free movement of labour within the CSME.