GRACIA WHYTE, a Jamaican, made sure she had all her documents in order when she began the process of applying for a Caricom Single Market Economy (CSME) skills certificate. She even had her employer, Digicel, to help ease her through the transition during her application process. Bureaucracy, however, still held her back.
"I came here in 2011. The human resources team was very keen to ensure I had everything. I applied for the certificate in Jamaica, but it was valid for only a specific time frame. So as soon as I got to here, I started the process of getting one issued by the TT Government."
Whyte admitted the process was not as tedious for her as it was for many because she had Digicel's human resources on her side. But, she said, guidance is key when applying for CSME skills certificate. If she did not have the company's guide, she said, she might have taken some things for granted. "I think it was easier for me. I have heard of people who do follow the law getting a lot of hassle even though they have the required certificate issued by the government of Jamaica. It is important for those going to another country to be aware.
Perhaps because it is inter-Caribbean movement, it is not taken as seriously as one would approach entering the UK or US. We don't go to the US embassy without these documents."
There are requirements, though, which could prove challenging for most. In Whyte's case, she studied in the UK and was therefore required to get a certificate from the police in the UK as proof that she had no criminal record – a process, she said, which took six weeks. "Getting all those documents can be inconvenient, especially for people who would have last lived in another country ten years ago."
Even then, Whyte said despite having all the required documents, she was not immune to what she called "weird vibes" from immigration – something she has never experienced in all her trips to the US, UK and other parts of the Caribbean, like Barbados and Antigua.
CSME is supposed to help facilitate the ease of movement of people – especially skilled professionals and artisans – throughout the region, ostensibly for economic benefit and enrichment. Unfortunately, even in cases like Whyte's the transition isn't always smooth.
The CSME dream began in 1989 with Caricom countries agreeing to establish a single market economy "to deepen the integration movement and to better respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by globalisation."
According to Caricom's website, while a primary focus of the common market is liberalising trade among members, the CSME not only expands this process to include services, but also provides for the free movement of capital (money), skilled labour, technology and the freedom to establish business enterprises anywhere in Caricom. The free movement of skills and labour include the right of a national from any Caricom state to seek work in any participating CSME member state, based on article 46 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. This eliminates the need for the worker to obtain a work permit in the member state in which he or she may have found a job opportunity.
CSME states include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago – a total of over six million people.
Last December, following a special heads of government meeting in Port of Spain, Caricom announced agricultural workers, security guards, beauticians and barbers would now qualify for the certificate. Previously, the categories for free movement were university graduates, artistes, musicians, media workers and athletes. And only in February did countries agree to the Protocol on Contingent Rights for the spouses and children of skills certificate holders, including access to social services.
The widening in the range of professionals able to work in TT and throughout the region, allows more people to explore opportunities on other islands. Attempts were made to acquire information on the approximate number of nationals from other Caricom states working in TT using the CSME skills certificate from the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, but attempts to get the information requested was met with delay. Business Day also sought to get information on how many nationals from other countries may be working in TT without the permit, and how many TT nationals are likely to be working in other Caricom states.
On visits to barbershops and salons, it was clear there are several vocational workers in TT – but many are employed without the required certificate, and are therefore unable to pay taxes and access benefits generally available to workers.
A barber from east Trinidad, who declined to give his name, said he has been working in TT for over 15 years without a skills certificate. He moved to TT from Guyana and has been earning a living from his skill. He said, however, there are unfortunate challenges that come with not having the certificate. "I am not able to open a bank account, take out a mortgage or anything without it. I have to buy everything cash."
Now that he has the chance to apply for a CSME skills certificate as a vocational worker, he said he will go through the necessary process, as it would make his life much easier.
Another respondent, who said he has been working as an educator in TT for over six years, said he first arrived from Jamaica as a visitor but decided to stay after two weeks. "I didn't plan to move here, but during my short time here I had met a lady who after meeting me said she saw potential in me. Because of that, she became a sponsor and assisted me in doing further studies. So I stayed for school, then became a teacher."
He said he got a job as a teacher at a private secondary school and has been doing so for the past five years. He said he does not think he would want to get the certificate. "The process to get one is so hard – there are so many requirements, so attempting the process did not seem like something I thought to be manageable."
He hoped the process can be simplified because, he acknowledged, there are benefits he was not able to access – like getting a bank account.
He supports the notion that as citizens of Caribbean states, people should be able to move about freely as long as they are not criminals. "If we are supposed to be a unit, why do we find that there are so many challenges? And there are so many challenges when it comes to doing things the way that is stated by law."
Business frustrated with states' slow pace
Prominent TT businessman Arthur Lok Jack at the 2019 TT Chamber annual general meeting luncheon last Thursday blamed regional leaders for the slow progress in regional integration.
"I hope that somewhere down the line the TT government can get the hell out of our business, and the same for Jamaica – and leave it to the private sector to do what the private sector has to do." He added: "Every time the government changes we have different rules and regulations, and different public servants."
He urged the private sector to put pressure on the government to put strategies and policies in place for the further growth of Caricom and the CSME. Lok Jack said he made a number of efforts to consult with the government on what can be done to empower the CSME, but added, "They have absolutely no interest in the CSME." Interest only arises in instances where TT stands to benefit individually.
Panellists discussed the positive impact of further integration in the region through the CSME, and said the slow progress of deepening collaborations have resulted in a decline in economic benefits and trade performance in the region when compared to the 1970s.
Colin Soo Ping Chow, EY Caribbean executive chairman, said it would be beneficial to maintain a pan-Caribbean approach, while negotiating how it may be balanced with individual practices and economic models, similar to that of the European Union. Massy Group president and CEO Gervase Warner made reference to 2007 Cricket World Cup and said it stood as evidence that the region could act as a unit and benefit as a unit. "However, after the Cricket World Cup, we all went back to operating as independent states, even though the systems used to facilitate the tournament are still in place."