The Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago welcomes the renewed interest in regional social and economic integration expressed by many Caribbean governments. It seems that the CARICOM single market and economy (CSME) is back on the regional agenda, after years of being on the back burner. The regional private sector has always been a major driver of regional integration and the Energy Chamber has long called for the full implementation of the CSME.
The Energy Chamber is a founding member of the new Caribbean Chambers Network (CARICHAM) which is pulling together all of the Chambers of Commerce in the Caribbean region to work on issues of common concern. This is an important new development and fills the void that has been left by the demise of previous regional private sector groupings. CARICHAM is using a modern networking approach and leveraging technology to keep costs at a minimum and communications flowing easily. CARICHAM has an important role to play in regional integration.
One area in which the Energy Chamber would like to see much deeper integration is in the free movement of people and the right for all CARICOM citizens to live and work throughout out the region. At present, the free movement is restricted to university graduates and some specific skill areas and individuals must first obtain a CARICOM skills certificate in order to qualify. This means that there are many skilled individuals who might be able to find new job or entrepreneurial opportunities in other CARICOM countries but are unable to move freely under the existing regulations.
Many individuals in the Caribbean region lack certification for the practical skills that they possess. This means that they are unable to get skills certificates. In the Trinidad and Tobago energy sector, we are trying to address this issue through competency assessment of the existing skills of uncertified workers. We recently completed a project with the National Energy Skills Center where we organised an assessment of the practical skills of 70 workers and issued them with certificates recognising their existing skills. This project was funded by Methanex, who wanted to make sure that workers coming onto their plant for a major maintenance project were competent to do the work.
The Energy Chamber has proposed to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago that far more attention should be placed on ensuring that skilled but uncertified workers have their skills recognised. We would also advocate that other governments in the Caribbean place an emphasis on the competency assessment process and ensure that skilled workers in all sectors are properly certified.
Once workers have their competencies certified, the next step is to ensure that these certificates are recognised on a regional level and that these skill areas are recognised within the CSME skills certificate programme. The Energy Chamber has asked the Trinidad and Tobago government to raise this issue at the CARICOM level and also to advocate for a much more streamlined, efficient and robust methodology for granting skills certificates. CARICHAM could play an important role in facilitating the CSME skills certification programme by hosting skills assessment programmes and ensuring that there is a robust database of skilled workers eligible to move freely in the region.
Integration of regional labour markets is an important step for regional economic integration. It is something that is supported by both the regional private sector and the regional trade union movement. The Energy Chamber strongly encourages regional governments to place emphasis on putting the mechanisms in place that will allow regional labour market integration to become a reality.