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The role of Civil Society in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)

Stabroek News, Guyana

The role of Civil Society in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)

By Alana Benjamin

(Alana Benjamin is a Trade and Development consultant currently based in Barbados)

13 July 2015

Regional Integration is loosely defined as countries cooperating to achieve a common objective. The way in which countries choose to achieve these common objectives depends on the commitment and keenness of states or countries to share their sovereignty towards a common goal.

As we are aware, our regional integration process in the wider Caribbean is the arrangement set up by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community, including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). In Article 6 of the Revised Treaty, roughly nine objectives of CARICOM and by extension, the CSME are stated for achievement. The first two objectives stated in this Article are the ‘improved standards of living and work and full employment of labour and factors of production.’ Consequently, the Free Movement Regimes were designed to ensure, among other things, the fulfilment of these objectives by providing an improvement and expansion of the Caribbean labour market through increased employment opportunities for the Region’s working population.

In 1996, at the 17th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads, the initial list of five specific skills and professions was endorsed to move freely for the purposes of practicing their craft under the Free Movement of Skilled Nationals Regime. This is stated in Article 45 of the Revised Treaty. In 2007, at the 18th Inter-Sessional Meeting of Conference of Heads, this list was further expanded to include artisans with the Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ). In 2009 at the 30th Meeting of the Conference of Heads, the category of domestic workers with a CVQ was added effective January 1st, 2010.

However, despite the commitment made by the highest decision making body in CARICOM, the Free Movement of Skilled Nationals Regime is not fully utilised by the citizens of CARICOM. Although there are limited comprehensive records of the utilisation of the Free Movement Regime, it has been established that the more educated and economically privileged have been using the Regime significantly more than the more marginalised and disadvantaged groups with the greatest urgency to move to satisfy economic need. In 2015, this underutilisation is due to many reasons, including the uneven implementation of key administrative processes and procedures required to facilitate certification.

As Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves rightly pointed out in his speech at the 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government, ‘the central responsibility for the implementation of CARICOM’s decisions rests with the governments of the individual nation-states. … So, the success of the CARICOM enterprise truly begins with the political leadership, though it does not end with us alone. It ends with us, our national populations, and national institutions, massaged by the balm of our regional apparatuses.’

With this in mind, the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), with the aid of the CARTFund funded by the Department of International Development, is in the process of concluding a ‘Making CSME Work for Artisans and Domestics’ Project, with the main objective of increasing the movement of these last two categories granted rights under the Skilled Nationals Regime, artisans and domestic workers. This project was implemented through key partners in five countries, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Guyana, the top sending and receiving countries in the CSME.

The first component of the Project is an education and awareness programme aimed mainly at increasing artisans’ and domestic workers’ knowledge of their rights under the Skilled Nationals Regime. The programme provided face-to-face dialogues with domestic workers and artisans as well as awareness materials that were specifically tailored to the target group in content and language, such as brochures, Public Service Announcements and posters. This leads into the second component – the delivery of support services through the assistance of our implementing partners in each country. These support services are aimed at providing an alternative avenue for artisans and domestic workers to receive information about the procedures of becoming a certified CARICOM Skilled National.

The final and critical component is a Civil Society Response to the issues and challenges of the implementation of the Skilled Nationals Regime, developed through consultations with the public and private sector and sanctioned by civil society stakeholders directly involved with artisans and domestic workers.

This Civil Society Response primarily reflects the views of domestic workers and artisans concerned with the fact that they are not able to fully exercise their rights as a CARICOM Skilled National. They are also concerned that their rights are not given priority in the implementation process. As a result, this Response provides actions and recommendations for five (5) key agencies to better facilitate the movement of artisans and domestic workers.

One of the main recommendations is the beneficial consultation between civil society and relevant decision-making Community organs, including the Conference of Heads of Government. Currently, there is no structured mechanism facilitating dialogue between Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Community Organs. This is despite stated commitments to engage CSOs at all levels. In order to develop and implement a Single Market that is practical to all segments of the Caribbean society, it is important that there are opportunities for representative organizations of civil society to participate in relevant decision making processes. Civil society serves as the legitimate voice of the groups who represent the actual constituents impacted by the decisions of the Community. Therefore, greater consultation with groups representing artisans and domestic workers at the decision-making stage will in the longer term mitigate implementation bottlenecks.Since the national governments are the main implementers of CARICOM decisions, it is recommended that a formal and consistent working relationship for information exchange be established between national CSME Focal Point and Free Movement Committees and focal points of organizations representing artisans and domestic workers. This will assist in limiting misconceptions about the operation of the Skilled National Regime and by extension, the CSME.

A critical recommendation made in almost every consultation is for a comprehensive, multi-faceted long-term public education campaign targeted at artisans, domestic workers and other vulnerable users of the Regime, taking into account language and use of appropriate channels of dissemination, including popular programmes in the mass media in each CARICOM country.

This campaign should include but not be limited to information on rights and obligations as CARICOM Nationals, practical information on the process of obtaining certification and recourse procedures for any grievances and complaints.

These recommendations, among others, in the Civil Society Response and the other components of the ‘Making CSME Work for Artisans and Domestics’ project are important in ensuring that every CARICOM citizen understands and has the opportunity to play a significant role in the development and implementation of the Free Movement of Skilled Nationals Regime and by extension, the CSME as a critical piece of the Caribbean regional integration process.