OPINION - THE 'EXPAT FACTOR' foreign labour in Seychelles |23 May 2022
Initially members were presented with salient facts and data as initial triggers for comments. Sources include the government's Immigration Division, Central Bank of Seychelles, Seychelles News Agency and the ILO (International Labour Organisation).
The information considered can be summarised as follows:
- The private sector remains the predominant source of employment in Seychelles, accounting for 67% of the 50,000 persons formally employed.
- The workforce is increasingly opting for flexible working arrangements. This has been exacerbated through the effect of the pandemic.
- High levels of youth unemployment, and an ageing population, mean that Seychelles will have more challenges to meet future labour market needs from the local labour supply.
- The majority of jobs are in the accommodation and food service, and the construction industry, which account for 19% and 11%of the labour force, respectively. These two sectors are not attracting as many local workers as might be the case and continue to employ large numbers of expatriates.
- The demand for foreign workers will continue.
- Effective alignment of the education system with labour market demand is also required.
- From 2006 to 2016, expatriate employment increased from 4,160 in 2006 to 15,074 in 2016. There were, immediately pre-Covid, ca. 17,000 expatriate workers in Seychelles. Currently 5,000 to 7,000 are abroad.
- Expatriates are more expensive to the employer and require (usually) payment in foreign exchange (a negative, especially at the moment), however at the same time expatriates contribute to foreign exchange inflows, especially within the tourism sector.
- Business surveys emphasise the shortage of local workers with required skill sets as well as concerns regarding quality of work/productivity.
Mahé Council deliberations
The meeting focussed upon a number of critical questions:
- Why has the number of expatriate workers increased over the last 15 years?
- Why would employers (including Seychellois employers) frequently choose to hire foreign workers over Seychellois despite the fact that they are more expensive?
- Why have government initiatives designed to counter the trend (at 1 above) failed?
- What systems might be developed in order to enhance the opportunities for Seychellois to meet employer expectations in the future?
A summary of key points & recommendations
- While foreign labour is needed and can bring skills and technological transfers to the country, the increased number of GOPs present in almost every sector of the economy is open to abuse and can have negative impacts on the economy and the local community if not managed and regulated properly.
- An assessment of the labour migration and subsequent development of a Labour Migration policy is a required component for DWCP II, (Decent Work Country Programme) given its implications on the economy and the labour market, the foreign labour force in the country and the national human resource development plan.
- Statutory, in-service and social education are key potential 'game changers' in terms of improving work ethos and ethics.
- Quotas exist within certain sectors (e.g. construction). Should GOP numbers be limited according to an informed template? This is linked to the question 'how much growth and development can Seychelles sustain?' When is enough enough, and at what point do the twin and closely related sectors of tourism and construction bring about harm to the environment in the interest of profit? 'Quo Vadis?' Within the economy the essential balance between profitability and environmental and social conservation is paramount. Less can be more.
- What are the existing programmes and motivations for the local labour force to deliver and why have they not worked? How might they be improved?
- We need to remain mindful of the diplomatic dimension of the subject. Governments which deliver aid to Seychelles are in some cases ruling nations from which significant numbers of migrant workers originate. Seychelles has received immense financial and development support since its independence. (e.g. World Bank, IMF, India, Russia, EU, UAE, Japan etc.) This support might carry a perception of transactionalism.
- There is a clear correlation between drug and alcohol abuse among the local labour force and the need for a (compensatory) foreign labour force.
- The main challenge to the replacement of foreign workers with locals might not be ability but rather the existence of long-held (and government endorsed) mind-sets misleading local attitudes. This creates a political dilemma: if these prevailing views are attacked, then the ensuing resentment might dissuade those affected from voting for the faction which they identify as disenfranchising them of basic ‘rights’.
- Such a radical programme would require an unprecedented installation of self-discipline, a reduction of 'hand outs' and a re-education programme, below and above the line, which inculcates the principle of 'something for something' (e.g. a fair day's pay for an honest day's work) rather than ‘something for nothing’. This would deliver (for the local workforce) elevated monetary remuneration and benefits, and performance based, end of year bonuses. Equable pay levels would be in place for both expatriates and locals, removing ‘us and them’ pay differentials which can also fuel (and justify) discontent among local employees.
- We need to work collectively in order to create a shift in the ‘culture’ of employment, generating a sense of pride and self esteem rooted in good work. Public awareness campaigns can complement core education programmes in this respect.
- Anti-foreign worker rhetoric needs to be challenged as vehemently as the contrary (anti-Seychellois sentiments expressed by expatriates). Mutual respect needs to be nurtured and at the core of this is the exposure of values and cultures from one cohort to another. ‘Foreigners’ have built and financed very much of today’s Seychelles and its success. Massive economic support since the existence of Seychelles, by foreign governments, international institutions, foreign investors and private individuals could make Seychelles one of the “most sponsored” countries in the world. (per capita)
- We need to counter negative perceptions of foreign influence. As a small island nation Seychelles will always be subject to foreign influence, the issue is how to select and manage the right quality and quantity. In this Seychelles is no different from any other member of the global community, including the world’s largest nations. However, in Seychelles expatriate workers are frequently victimised by locals. Workers from the Indian sub-continent are particularly susceptible to abuse, invariably unprovoked and unwarranted. Rather than being challenged by the political class such attitudes have been left to flourish, indeed it could be argued that slogans such as ‘Seychelles for the Seychellois’ justify and reinforce such appalling hostility.
- Life-long learning needs to be fostered, with young people leaving school with minds very much open towards further learning opportunities, albeit in a less formal, more organic manner. The process of skills transference from and to foreign workers through gradual osmosis is something which some Seychellois have resisted, to their disadvantage.
- Prior to this the issue of quality education which prepares young citizens for success within a meritocracy remains a primary one. Teaching standards have to improve and schools have to be better resourced. Serious and well-funded vocational options need to be on offer for young Seychellois not interested in academic pathways.
- Employment figures can mislead. Many Seychellois operate (very successfully) within the grey economy. This informal sector is not exclusively comprised of subsistence level earners, with many earning multiples of the minimum wage from diverse cash-in-hand jobs. Why would a person who is doing rather well in this sector commit themselves to a ‘normal job’?
- Effective knowledge and responsibility transfer, which enhance the skill set of an employee are much needed.
- The Employment legislation needs to be revised, and interior organisational structures need to be re-modelled. The tired ethos of ‘employee first regardless’ – manifested through, for example, the operations of biased Employment Tribunals – needs to be challenged if a significant group of local workers are to adopt professional traits and practices which are acceptable to employers. Local people deserve to be accurately informed regarding economic procedures and expectations, inclusive of the dismantling of the nonsensical notion that success and a comfortable life is some kind of birth right.
The over-riding feeling of the Council regarding this issue mirrored that recorded vis-a vis illegal drug use: specifically, that 'It' (the problem and the solution) is all about education.'
People’s behaviour can, through education above and below the line of systematic engagement, change attitudes and facilitate a reset, however it needs to be done in an empowering and multi-faceted parallel manner. Seychellois can meet expectations and match performance criteria set by their expatriate colleagues once they understand said criteria. They can be more proactive and deliver above expectations. Motivation through “carrot and stick” (good pay with strong law enforcement) may gather some success, while it may also be advised to utilise these three motivational needs (Professors Deci and Ryan): 1. Competence (the ability to develop skills and master skills) 2. Autonomy (self-determination of personal action) 3. Relatedness (a sense of belonging and connectedness). Such a paradigm shift needs to be managed in a facilitating manner which excludes unreasonable imposition. These paradigms, which although originally endowed upon the population by the government for political ends and subsequently maintained by the individual, fail to empower Seychellois. They can be dismantled through a comprehensive and multi-faceted programme of education, further training and clearly communicated expectations of performance levels. This is where we should, as a nation, be moving towards.
Contributed by the Mahé Council Think Tank
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Seychelles NATION newspaper.