The Acting Labour Commissioner Michelle McLean said the backlog emerged around July 2021 when the department closed for a few days because of COVID-19. She said the system was launched shortly after but the department experienced some technical difficulties with this new system and that created a further backlog.
“We are working on a system when you upload the information, sometimes it disappears. We are working on a system where we must physically print every paper that you submit to the department. It is time-consuming,” McLean explained.
Labour Minister Vincent Wheatley said if going back to manual will alleviate the current issue then he is willing to do it ‘grudgingly’.
“If it is going to help in anyway, take a day or two off the process then I am willing to do it for a certain period of time. But I do not think the manual is the way to go as we modernise and go into an electronic era. But if it is going to help right now, I will grudgingly say, ‘let us do it’,” Wheatley stated.
He further said the online system was designed and implemented to solve the current issues the department is facing.
“Once the online system is not doing what it is supposed to, then these problems will persist. Someone did suggest earlier that maybe we should remove it altogether and get it out of the way until we get the system fully configured and properly done. I say I am prepared to take that suggestion very seriously. If that is causing the main problem of the backlog and choking off and so forth, then let us do it,” Wheatley continued.
The minister said the goal of his ministry was to seamlessly move everything online to the point where people from the sister islands do not have to physically visit the Labour Offices to process work permits.
“Our ambition was to fully move this thing online to where you could be in Anegada or Jost Van Dyke and apply for your permit and get it issued online and pay for it. I would like to see this happen as quickly as possible. I am not a technical person but six months maximum I would love to have this properly rectified, back online with online payments and seamless movements between Labour and Immigration. That is what I would like to see happen,” Wheatley added.
Late last year, the Labour Minister told the Standing Finance Committee that the proposed online portal was expected to help free up manpower to allow the Labour Department to make a meaningful shift. He said once persons had the ability to pay online, it should free up some capacity where the department could redeploy their focus on the workforce development side as opposed to work permit processing.