OECS – gov’ts urge to educate nationals on free movement initiative

The CUT which discussed the issue at its 25th biennial conference in Barbados, said that while the move is a step in the right direction, it believes there should be more education on the issue by regional governments.

The CUT said that while the measure came into force at the start of this month, there were scores of people across the sub-region who are still unaware that it exists.

General Secretary of the St. Lucia Teachers Union (STLU), Wayne Cumberbatch who attended the Bridgetown conference, said that the few persons who are aware that the policy exists remain oblivious to the features and pre-requisites for free travel across the OECS Diaspora.

“While the initiative was generally welcomed by the organisation, the Assembly recommended the harmonisation of examinations and tests as being an essential feature that would further help unite the region.

“But even before we get to any advanced stages, it is incumbent on the governments to do more to educate the populace on the issue.

“We are still a little concerned that public information on the initiative is not readily available, we believed that our citizens can be more informed on what they need to do, when they are moving,” he said, adding that the “governments must be aware that they need to take the lead if the people of the sub-region are going to acquire that information”.

Meanwhile, concerns related to the free movement have also been expressed by the National Workers Union (NWU), the island’s largest trade union.

NWU general secretary Lawrence Poyotte has cited the lack of legislative framework to protect the rights of workers across the OECS.

He said there are not enough social safety nets and laws protecting citizens who immigrate to other territories within the sub-region.

“If you examine the attitude of OECS officials, when it comes to economic issues they are quick to harmonise, but when it comes to social concerns these matters are not given the requisite attention.

“Another issue of concern is what arrangements are in place in terms of citizens moving from one island to the next securing their social security benefits.

“For example I work in St. Vincent and I decide to move to St. Lucia, what arrangements are in place with regards to my social security benefits,” Poyotte said, noting that there werealso concerns that the free movement can cause an influx of workers in some OECS territories.

The free movement of OECS citizens is one of the fundamental aspects of the treaty of Basseterre establishing the OECS Economic Union which came into force on January21, 2011.

In the initial stage only citizens from Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St. Kitts Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda will participate in the exchange. The other states,  Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands are due to join the initiative at a later date.

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