Critical Labour Shortage

In March 2022, I wrote about the Minister of Labor’s visit to the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association, AHATA, General Meeting. At the time, I said that Aruba was suffering from a shortage of workers. While it is/was a global phenomenon, on an island where hospitality is the main economic pillar, it is/was especially painful/disruptive.

During his said visit to AHATA the minister promised to help issue work permits to some of the undocumented F&B professionals already living on the island, without access to healthcare, education, and/or social services, and without contributing to the island’s tax and social benefits systems. It was agreed that providing they entered the island legally, efforts would be made.

The business sector asked the minister to help inventory the undocumented residents, vet them, and help put them to work, perhaps even on temporary permits, but please do something, they said, we’re dying here.

That was two years ago.

Guess what?

Nothing much happened. They have been approving permits but their are very slow and insufficiently staffed, the normal permit process is outdated.

The Aruba Food & Beverage Association, AF&BA, held a press conference last week, crying for help because after holding endless meetings with decision-makers, organizing Job Fairs, and advertising for personnel, AF&BA is desperate. There are many positions open, and no one to fill them, and the process of applying for permits takes too long, is too costly and too bureaucratic.

AF&BA is walking the walk. It keeps filing documents, it started a pilot program for students to work and practice, it keeps talking to the labor department, to immigration. It hired a professional COO, Mirian Dabian, to push things along, but so far, the only thing happening is growth, with Iberostar Grand and the St. Regis hotels coming on line in November, as well as new businesses, in the pipeline.

The minister was unclear about the strategy of his ministry two years ago. Consequently, HIAS, an international aid organization, stepped into the gap, and conducted extensive studies. It is now ready to put a plan in action, pairing undocumented skilled workers and future employers, provided GOA does its share.

It could be a win-win solution, if overseen right. It will plug the need, and deliver thousands of would-be workers from illegality, stress and worry, it could save the level of service on the island.

Following the press conference, AF&BA announced that on February 15th, a forum of stakeholders will be meeting to discuss the burning issue further.

GOA’s sense of urgency is low, in comparison to that of AF&BA. Compounding the challenge is the fact that DIMAS, the Department of Integration, Management and Admission of Foreigners, the Labor Department, and Immigration, do not talk to each other.

So far, the only one campaigning about the subject is the former minister of infrastructure and the environment in the first Wever-Croes cabinet, a suspect in the Flamingo criminal investigation. He is the only one offering his platform to this important issue, and who knows, he might be voted into government again on the wings of his promise to act in the matter.

On January 13th, Amal Kasouf, owner of popular Alfie’s in Aruba shared a post on the pub’s FB. Reportedly, Alfie’s experienced some service hiccups, because it was short-handed the night of the 12th —  though the pub has been advertising for personnel, all along:  We will be closed tonight. We’ve been running the pub understaffed for over a month now, and we’re exhausted. Our crew has been working so hard this high season, and we all just need a 3-day mental health long weekend to recharge.

We won’t open that understaffed again. We’d much rather close, Amal & Pete.

Businesses, and business owners are suffering. It’s a fact.

We were short over 70 positions, shared a luxury resort manager, we’re down to just over 40, I feel fortunate. But we can’t staff the operation properly because of a critical labor shortage.

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February 05, 2024
Rona Coster