Record job losses are testing Curacao’s openness to foreign talent, magnifying local unease with foreign job seekers that was already apparent before Covid-19 drove the wealthy island into its deepest-ever recession.
Under pressure to revive the economy and create jobs, policymakers are responding cautiously with new measures to shore up local hiring while leaving the door open to skilled foreign workers needed to compete in various advanced leisure industries.
Total unemployment in Curacao fell to 64% in the first half of 2020, while the overall unemployment rate also rose as of June, after its local carrier was shut down due to the organized competition.
Prime Minister Rhuggenaath stressed in an address to Parliament that while his government would “always be on the side of local people”, the island must resist pressures to “turn inward” as policies to safeguard local jobs are adjusted in the wake of the pandemic-induced economic crisis.
Many local born natives are feeling anxious and pressured about their jobs. Their sense that foreigners are competing with them for jobs is palpable. We must be careful not to give the wrong impression that we are now closing up, and no longer welcoming foreigners. Such a reputation would do us great harm.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on low-wage migrant workers often employed in the construction sector who may account for around 95% of the infections.
Issues related to rising immigration and skilled foreign labor have, on the other hand, stoked a polarizing debate and stirred exclusionary sentiments, particularly toward migrants from Haiti, Colombia and Venezuela who some critics and netizens view as being over-represented in well-paid sectors such as tourism and off-shore banking industries.
Attitudes towards middle-class migrants are similar to global sentiments under these pandemic conditions and are characterized by heightened xenophobia in many cases, seeing migrants as competing for scarce low paid jobs and resources with citizens.
While some observers have welcomed moves to incentivize hiring local talent, others say the minimum salary thresholds for foreign workers could saddle employers with extra expenses in already challenging economic circumstances should there be too few suitable local candidates available for hire.
Non-residents, including foreign workers, accounted for 80.000 out of a total population of 170.000, according to official CBS statistics released in June 2019.
Foreign employment growth has steadily risen over the past decade, apart from the period between 2016 and 2018 where the number of foreigners working in Curacao declined.
But with private consumption down by 11.8% and border restrictions still in place, hospitality, tourism and recreation industries have been hard-hit.
Resorts one of the biggest private sector employers with more than 7,000 full-time employees in 2019, recently announced an unspecified number of third quarter layoffs, expected to be in the thousands.
Experts and observers say that the economy looks set to gradually recover, with stimulus measures allowing for a return to growth in 2021, barring a new major upsurge in Covid-19 cases.
Because of the unevenness of the impact and the many restrictions still in place, pressure on the labor market continues, as we can see from the various announcements of tightening hiring, cuts in pay and even reduction in payroll in some of those industries where they still don’t see much visibility on the recovery path.
Many of the businesses on the ground, because things are only slowly opening up, many may still look to trim their headcounts. I suppose it can get worse before it gets better.
ABC Flash Point Depression News 2020.