The Trinidad Guardian / Chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (UdeCOTT) Noel Garcia has promised to launch a full-scale investigation into reports of Venezuelans migrants being hired as labourers on the Red House restoration project.

“I have been told there are quite a few Venezuelans but I don’t know if it is because of low wages. I can say I have heard that there are Venezuelans who are working on the site,” Garcia admitted yesterday when asked about the issue.

He said UdeCOTT had contracted “about 12 sub-contractors” for the $440 million project.

In 2005, Udecott assumed responsibility for the project which began 19 years ago. In 2012, Parliament relocated to its temporary home at the Waterfront Complex, Tower D, Port-of-Spain, to accommodate the much-needed repairs to the iconic building.

Garcia said he got information about Venezuelans working on the Red House from a reliable source.

“I had a project meeting on Thursday and one of the engineers said somebody mistook him for a Venezuelan. I asked him why and he said because there are a number of Venezuelans on the project and I let it pass because I don’t normally get into that granular detail,” he said

The T&T Guardian was told the Venezuelans are paid $250 a day as labourers, while local are demanding $400. In some cases, they work beyond the eight-hour shift. There are a few women among the migrant workers.

Garcia said: “I promise you first thing tomorrow I will ask the project manager to investigate it to assure me that the contractors are following the law as it pertains to non-nationals working on the construction site.”

Foreigners must have a valid work permit to be employed in T&T.

Garcia said if a contractor has Venezuelans employed on the site he hopes they are observing the law. If the investigation reveals that the Venezuelans are not in possession of work permits, the Immigration Division will be alerted.

“Let us hope that it does not come to that,” he said.

Garcia said he could not tell contractors how to run their businesses once they are operating within the law. He said UdeCOTT has no Venezuelan nationals on its payroll.

Social, economic and political upheavals as well as hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and other supplies and US sanctions has forced many Venezuelans to flee their country and look for work in neighbouring countries, including T&T, to earn money and supplies to send back home to their families.

According to the August 2017 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR( report there are an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans in T&T. To date, approximately 2,000 Venezuelans have applied for asylum and the numbers are increasing, acting acting Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews old a Joint Select Committee of Parliament in April.

UdeCOTT is the executing agency for several projects across the country and Garcia admitted there are problems in sourcing local labour.

“I get the sense that people find construction work is a little too hard and we do get that cry,” he said

He said the multi-million dollar project is target to be completed by year’s end and within budget.

“It is not going to be an easy task but in life nothing is easy,” he said

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