While stating that a large backlog of work permit applications still exists on Tortola the Minister for Labour Honourable Melvin “Mitch” Turnbull listed bottlenecks, duplication of efforts and staffing issues within the Department of Labour and Workforce Development as the main causes of the continuous backlog.
Minister Turnbull made the disclosure at a recent press conference in response to questions posed by the media.
He said upon taking up the role, he and his team sat with every individual within the Department of Labour and Workforce Development to determine the root of the problem.
“There is not a backlog on Virgin Gorda, there’s a backlog of work permits and applications in Tortola and it seems to be – what I have identified and we have provided a report to the Deputy Governor as well as the Governor and the Premier is made aware of the report of what we have found – there seem to be bottlenecks in certain areas, there seems to be duplication of efforts that continues to slow down the process,” Turnbull stated.
He added, “I must admit that while the substantial holder of the post – the Labour Commissioner – is on leave, she has been and for a long time, the Labour and Workforce Development have been operating on a staff of 19 to deal with a workforce of 19,000 persons. That is the reality.”
Communication issues identified
Minister Turnbull further said that a communication issue was also identified as a hindrance in the process of work permit applications.
During the conference, he did state that an exact figure of the backlog was not available at the time but said the numbers are still relatively large in size.
“I think one of the issues that we have seen is there has been a lack of communication between the persons that have applied, between the business owners and the labour department and those are one of the things that we’re working on. There is a system where we still are pulling applications from the online system that was launched. So you understand that I can’t give a number outright of how many files or how many applications are backlogged. There is still a very big backlog within the labour department that we are working aggressively to address,” he explained.
Using the blueprint from the VG system
Turnbull, who is also the Second District Representative revealed the department will be mirroring the system used on the sister island of Virgin Gorda to help remedy the backlog.
He said this will involve utilising a new directive to better streamline the process.
“The team has now a different directive in terms of how we streamline things, understanding the cries of the public, understanding the issues that are faced. Simply if an application is not complete, the process doesn’t start if it’s not complete. So we are working to address those things and we are learning a lot from the system that simply has and is having in Virgin Gorda less staff, obviously less applications but it’s a streamline process that we are now working with,” he said.
Plans to hire more staff to address issues
Meanwhile, Minister Turnbull also said that plans are in place to facilitate the hiring of more staff in the department.
He said this will include a combination of hiring new staff and shifting individuals from other departments to the Department of Labour and Workforce Development.
“The conversation with the premier and minister of finance simply in this upcoming 2022-2023 Budget is to be able to secure the funding to hire additional staff. But there’s not just the staffing, it is some of the systems that we have. I keep saying systems don’t work, it is people that work and some of the persons that we have, again the premier has said it and I have taken it to be my mantra which is simply, “some persons need to be shifted and moved from where they are.” There are lots of round pegs in square holes and we have to address that,” Minister Turnbull expressed.
During a stakeholders’ meeting which was held in February 2022 to address the work permit issue in the territory, it was disclosed that a backlog of more than 2000 applications existed in the territory.
Just one month later, the Department of Labour and Workforce Development announced the establishment of a new task force to tackle the backlog issue.