STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE VINCENT WHEATLEY
MINISTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES, LABOUR & IMMIGRATION
NINETH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, 11TH JUNE, 2020
LABOUR AND IMMIGRATION
Mister Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to stand before you today and give a statement on Labour and Immigration matters. As you and the Members of this Honourable House will remember I made a statement on Sunday, 3rd May to the people of these beautiful Virgin Islands updating them on Labour and Immigration matters. Mister Speaker, today I wish to give supplemental information that will answer some burning questions coming out of that statement.
Firstly, I would like to again thank the employers who have displayed BVILove by keeping their employees engaged the best they can during this “New Regular”, and those employees who continue to be patient and understanding of the decisions made by their employer, whether in their favor or not.
Mister Speaker, in my previous statement we established that the Labour Code 2010 is not equipped with the necessary language to protect employees and employers during times of disasters and pandemics such as this. I informed the people that a decision was before Cabinet to increase the Lay-off period. Mister Speaker, I am happy to report that this was approved. Further to this the Labour Code (Amendment) Act, 2020is before us today. This Amendment allows employees and employers to benefit from an extended lay-off period. This new lay-off period will give a total of four (4) additional months, not to exceed 31st October, 2020, and will alleviate the burden on employees to seek alternative employment, and on businesses to identify the necessary funding for severance, where applicable.
Mister Speaker, with the new lay-off period in mind, I would like to again remind employers to be considerate to their employees by notifying them of any changes to their employment agreement, and gaining their agreement to the changes, prior to contacting the Department of Labour & Workforce Development.
Mister Speaker, further to this Cabinet has approved that any person being laid-off by their employer whose work permit and entry permit will expire during the lay-off period, is to make an appointment with the Immigration Department so that an extension can be granted to cover the lay-off period. At the end of that period, if retained, that person can then submit a renewal to the Department of Labour & Workforce Development for processing, once valid work is evident. I would also like to reiterate that if a person is laid off or terminated it is mandatory and important that you visit the Immigration Department immediately.
Mister Speaker, I am aware that many work permit holders who are currently outside of the Territory, due to port closures, are becoming worried as their entry permits may have expired during that time. Mister Speaker, Cabinet has considered these types of persons and has approved the re-entry of persons with expired entry permits, once the borders are open and allowing work permit holders to return. These persons would be expected to return no later than one (1) month following the opening of the borders. They, like persons within the Territory with expired entry permits, will not be penalized, but rather would be given sufficient time following re-entry to regularize their status.
Mister Speaker, as of 22 May, 337 businesses across the Territory have contacted the Department of Labour and Workforce Development to lodge their business’s employment status. 77 of those businesses have reported temporary closures, while 260 remain operational. Of the businesses submitting information, a total of 767 persons have been reported as laid off; and 165 persons have been reported as terminated. Of the 4,259 employees reported as affected, 1,140 are BVIslanders/Belongers; 2,130 are Work Permit Holders; 289 are persons granted Work Permit Exemption; and 700 of those persons are still being classified. Mister Speaker, I am pleased to say that this data has been fed into the stimulus plan, thus allowing those persons that have been profoundly affected to receive the necessary support.
As we continue to receive reports on business status, it has become even more evident that the Tourism industry is hardest hit and may take some time to be revived not only in the BVI, but worldwide. This, Mister Speaker, is not only difficult for that sector, but for the BVI economy in general as we all benefit from Tourism indirectly. This pandemic will no doubt force that sector, and by extension the workforce, to think differently and to increase its innovative capacity to remain significant.
Mister Speaker, as the Department of Labour & Workforce Development and the Immigration Department continue to work diligently in processing work permit and entry permit renewals, we would like to remind employers that if the relevant business status information is not shared with the department this will disrupt their ability to gain services from both departments. Further, employers are reminded that the work permit and entry permit fees remain in effect and are required to be paid in full during this time.
Mister Speaker, persons residing in the BVI who have been terminated and would like to seek alternative employment will have the option to apply to the Acting Chief Immigration Officer for a Conditional Permit under Section 31(1)(c) and 31(1A) of the Immigration and Passport (Amendment) Act, 2016, which will allow a qualifying person (persons residing for a period of five years, and not having a previous Conditional Permit within the last three (3) years) to remain in the BVI while seeking employment for a period of three (3) months. Mister Speaker, we however understand that the ongoing pandemic is a fluid situation and therefore the public should note that further changes may have to be made as time unfolds.
Mister Speaker, as we continue to work diligently to safeguard work in this Territory, we continue to seek the commitment of our employees and employers to be good stewards as we fight with the reality of unemployment during these uncertain times.
Mister Speaker, may God continue to bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.
Thank you, Mister Speaker.