Guyana urged to screen foreign workforce; increase inspections of hinterland worksites

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

The Guyana Government is being encouraged to proactively screen foreign workers, particularly those of two specific nationalities, to improve its fight against human trafficking.

This is according to the 2024 Trafficking In Persons Report produced and published annually by the US Department of State.

The report recognised that “although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not vet labour agreements with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Cuban governments for trafficking vulnerabilities, adequately screen PRC and Cuban workers for trafficking indicators, or conduct sufficient inspections of these nationals’ worksites.”

The document referenced 2023 media reports whereby the government announced plans to receive 200 additional nurses in 2024 through the Cuban medical programme, but noted that “Cuban government-affiliated medical professionals working in Guyana may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.”

A similar claim was made by the US State Department regarding Chinese nationals, stating that “PRC nationals working on PRC government projects through the Belt and Road Initiative may have been forced to work by the PRC government.”

The report quoted observers, noting although the government, International Organisations, and Non-Governmental Organisations had no reports of forced labour in government-to-government contracts, officials rarely inspected the worksites with the two nationalities.

Considering these findings, the US Department of State recommended regular screening of these categories of workers, vetting labour agreements with the Chinese and Cuban governments for trafficking risks, and regular inspections of worksites.

Recommendations were also made for the Government to proactively screen other vulnerable populations, including Haitian migrants for trafficking indicators, refer them to services, and ensure potential victims are not deported without screening.

Meanwhile, the report also flagged the country for not having a migrant labour policy.

Currently, according to the report, migrant workers who wish to change employers need to first obtain a new work permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs. This can either be done by the previous employer officially informing the Ministry’s Immigration Support Services that the employee was no longer employed and request the cancellation of the work permit or visa before the new employer could apply, or a new employer could request a cancellation of the previous work permit or visa on making a new employment or sponsorship offer.

The report acknowledged that the government previously reported the latter method protected against the exploitation of migrant workers by the first employer.

However, the report said that the Recruitment of Workers Act and the Employment Exchanges Act provided the legislative framework for labour recruitment, but the government did not have any laws prohibiting employers, recruiters, or labour agents from charging workers recruitment fees, switching contracts without the workers’ consent, or withholding wages as a means of keeping workers in a state of compelled service, despite an increase in in-country recruitment agencies targeting workers for the country’s burgeoning oil sector.

The report added that the Government did not adequately oversee recruitment agencies, prevent worker-paid recruitment and placement fees, or adequately screen for trafficking victims in the interior of the country.

As such, recommendations were made for the government to complete a review of existing legislation on labour recruitment.

The US Department of State also urged the government to increase labour inspections at high-risk worksites in the mining and logging districts.

It noted that labour officers trained on trafficking frequently conducted impromptu investigations of worksites and business premises in the capital City but they did so infrequently in the interior mining and logging districts because of the limited number of inspectors and a lack of vehicles capable of traversing the terrain.

It was noted that while both sex trafficking and labour trafficking occur in remote interior mining communities, limited government presence in the country’s interior renders the full extent of trafficking there unknown.

But the report said as was reported over the last five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Guyana, and traffickers exploit victims from Guyana abroad.

It noted that traffickers exploit victims in labour trafficking in mining, agriculture, forestry, domestic service, and shops.

In fact, the report said in March 2024, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security recorded a 400-percent year-over-year increase in adult men who were victims of labour trafficking.

It was also observed that the government also reported some traffickers use social media to publish ads to recruit workers to work on farms, in mines, or as janitors or wait staff in bars or hotels.

“NGOs reported traffickers are often middle-aged men who own or operate nightclubs. Some traffickers are also family members of the victims. Migrants, women, and young people from rural and Indigenous and minority communities, children, and those without education are the most at risk for human trafficking. Traffickers exploit women and children from Guyana, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Suriname, and Venezuela in sex trafficking in mining communities in the interior and urban areas of the country,” the report said.

Nonetheless, the report noted that the Government continues to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period and therefore, Guyana remained on Tier 1.

These efforts included increasing investigations and prosecutions; convicting one trafficker and ordering her to pay restitution; and enacting a new anti-trafficking law with increased penalties.

The Government also constructed a care home for child migrants, including child trafficking victims; identified more victims and referred them to services; granted more victims residency and work permits; hired more English-Spanish interpreters and other additional staff; and conducted extensive awareness campaigns and training.