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Contractor seeks permission to bring in more Chinese workers

... says attendance issues with locals threaten hospital construction deadline

Published:Tuesday | January 10, 2023 | 1:28 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer


Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says there is an ongoing need for skilled workers to supplement the depleting pool of local skilled people to build the Western Children's Hospital in St James.

His statement follows a request from the Chinese contractor building the children and adolescent hospital for permission to import 13 additional skilled workers from China to ensure that the work meets construction deadlines.

Currently, Jamaican workers outnumber their Chinese counterparts 65 to 56 on the site.

Tufton said that the construction of the Western Children's Hospital, a 220-bed facility on the compound of the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) to provide medical services for the targeted population in western Jamaica, is progressing well, and there seems to be no issues between the two worksites and an active hospital.

“This is not a regular site, it is a plant with a lot of moving parts where lives depend on it. We have had some issues relating to labour and the availability of skilled labour, but I think the team has been accommodating in terms of sourcing and working with local labour,” Tufton said. “But where necessary, we have to bring in labour.”

The minister said that the debate as to whether Jamaica should be importing skilled labour is justified. However, he said the country is already operating in an open society.

“It is a necessity if we want to make progress and what is important is that it is done in harmony and that we also provide an opportunity for the local workers to have an opportunity. I sense here at this site that there is harmony in regard to trying to satisfy that space,” Tufton related.

During Friday's tour of the construction site for the children and adolescent hospital, an interpreter with the Chinese contractor informed that an undisclosed number of the Jamaican workers among the group of 65 are not turning up for work as they should.

“There is a problem with the local workers, maybe they come to work today and can't come tomorrow without asking for leave,” a Chinese spokesperson told Tufton.

In response, the minister noted that there is an issue that has to be made about the scarcity of skilled workers and that while the construction site may require some unskilled labour, such as people carrying steel and mortar, it needs skilled personnel, particularly because the plant requires significant structural capacity that guards against infection and help in disease prevention and control.