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Population law making island ‘low-skill, low-wage’ society

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GUERNSEY is at risk of becoming a ‘drone society’ of low-wage, low-skill employees if changes are not made to the population law, a former deputy Housing minister has said.

Graham Guille. (25447232)

Graham Guille served in the States from 2003 to 2012 and was a member of the Housing Authority for the last four of those years, serving under the minister of the time, the late Dave Jones.

In the light of the recent row over the appointment of a non-local candidate by Education, Sport & Culture to a position for which a local was originally selected, Mr Guille said that he had a number of concerns.

But, he said, the real point was being missed: ‘The machinations now taking place within the schools system are nothing new, they have been going on since before I was in the States back in 2002,’ he said.

‘They are, however, a pointer to a much deeper issue, which if left un-addressed will in the not-too-distant future reduce Guernsey to a low-wage, low-skill society. One where the “glass ceiling” becomes the norm.’

During Mr Guille’s time at Housing he was responsible for housing and employment permits and in 2009 there was a very similar situation. ‘In simple terms the Education board of the day were, in our opinion, playing fast and loose with the licensing system,’ he said.

‘I reached the point where I said if this was going to continue unchallenged we might as well send them a bundle of pre-approved licences for them to fill in the required names, as and when required.’

The problem was not specific to one group, however, and it related to how a lot of organisations regarded the licensing system, be they within government or in the wider business community.

He said that at that time, Housing stressed that a licence was a ‘short-term fix’, to provide a limited period during which a local resident could be trained to fill the post.

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‘It was certainly not to be regarded as a “get out of jail free card” to reward an organisation that wanted to avoid the cost and inconvenience of having to train their own staff and that they had the term of the licence to get someone trained to replace the licence holder.’

This was always a problem in some sections, but changes to the population management regime ‘has made an already difficult problem much worse’.

Housing’s fear was that licence holders seemed to be the preferred choice. It reasoned that should the successful applicant prove unsatisfactory, the department or company could dispense with their services simply by asking Housing to revoke the licence, ‘leaving that department to do their “dirty work” of removal of that employee, through the courts if necessary. A local resident would not be so easy to get rid of,’ said Mr Guille.

‘Far too many States departments and private employers see the housing or employment licence as a cheap way to get access to qualified staff they did not have to pay for training.’

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In addition, he said it now seemed far too easy to obtain a licence.

While there used to be a team of five board members reviewing every application, Mr Guille’s understanding is that today a single civil servant can certify whether an application is valid.

‘The matter is if anything worse at present as those lobbying for more licences to be released now have the Gillson Employment Advisory Panel “leaning on” Home Affairs on behalf of “this or that” sectoral interest.’

His fear was that the situation could lead to a glass ceiling for islanders, with all promotions and supervisory staff being brought under licence. ‘You might call it a “drone society”,’ said Mr Guille.

‘We thought then, and I still do, that Guernsey people deserve better than that.’

He believes that the current law was about the needs and demands of people who were living in the open market and who wanted to move into more affordable properties, and the wish of many in the business sector to have unrestricted access to a pool of labour they did not have to pay to train.

‘It is perhaps indicative that of the 44 specific provisions of the new law there is almost nothing which even mentions the local resident population,’ said Mr Guille. ‘In fact, one would be hard pressed to identify a single beneficial aspect of the new population regime from an islander’s perspective.’

Mark Ogier

By Mark Ogier
News reporter

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