An amendment to the Labor (Work Permits) Act No. of 2018, was passed by parliament yesterday, after a full morning of debate on the Bill.

The Bill was tabled by the Minister for Internal Affairs responsible for Labor matters, Andrew Napuat.

The Act outlines the legal processes of how a non-citizen can be engaged to work in the private sector. A person may be legally issued with a work permit if his or her employer applies in the prescribed form and pays the prescribed fees. The Commissioner of Labor will then issue a permit once he or she is satisfied that the requirements set out in the Act are complied with.

In presenting the Bill in Parliament, Internal Affairs Minister Andrew Napuat, explained that upon enforcing this Act, it has come to the Government’s attention that amendments are needed in the Act to ensure that; positions are occupied by citizens; and there is an increase of Government revenue; and the appeal process for work permits is strengthened under the Act; and citizens are safeguarded from being mistreated by non-citizens who are working with them under labor work permits; and foreign investors are here to invest and not be employed.

On localization of positions under the current Act, when a non-citizen is employed in Vanuatu, the Commissioner of Labor must inform his or her employer of the obligations to train workers who are citizens to ensure that the citizen is capable of occupying that position when the non-citizen’s contract expires. The Act needs to be amended to ensure that there is a specific period for the training of a citizen and how long the non-citizens can continue to be employed in Vanuatu.

Minister Napuat explained that the proposed amendments now make it an obligation for this training to occur for 4 years only from the time the work permit was granted. Furthermore, the amendment now ensures that all non-citizens working under a labor work permit can only work for a period not exceeding 4 years. This would encourage the training to citizens and the eventual localization of positions.

Other sections of the Bill deal with increase of government revenue, appeal processes, Safeguarding citizens from mistreatment by non-citizens and foreign investors.

Some MPs from both sides of the House felt the Bill needed to be further improved in the sections dealing with training and the timing of 4 years and localization.

MPs raised concerns that Ni-Vanuatu citizens returning from overseas studies with qualifications are not being accommodated or placed in employment they should occupy, while some were also critical of what they said jobs as drivers, were occupied by foreign workers depriving citizens of such positions.

Much debate was taken up also on the appeal process. While the propose amendment establishes a work permit appeals committee (“the appeals committee”) to determine applications for an employer who is aggrieved by a decision of the Commissioner of Labor, the Appeals Committee consisting of a member of the Judiciary, the Director General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the CEO of the Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority (“VIPA”) and the Director of Immigration Services, some MPs cautioned that the system must not be politicized.

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