Government has taken a lot of stick, much of it deserved, for failing to address the loss of jobs in the community and the departure of businesses from the Island.
Estimates vary, but theres no question that thousands of jobs have been lost and thousands of people have left since 2009. The result is the worst recession in living memory.
So it must have been with some relief that Premier Paula Cox was able to reveal the results of the Job Makers Act last week.
Eight companies have been granted this designation, and three others are thought to be applying. Of the eight who have been successful, seven have been granted concessions, mainly waivers on the work permits of senior executives, a major area of complaint.
This legislation had been criticised for being too onerous, so Ms Cox will have been pleased that companies have successfully applied and have shown a commitment to Bermuda. Some, she noted, even intend to add jobs in Bermuda.
That is especially important, because there was a risk that this legislation would end up being, at best, a job savers law rather than a job makers law. Theres nothing wrong with saving jobs, since Bermuda cannot afford to add to unemployment, but its more important to look at how the Island can expand the economy.
And that may be the flaw in this legislation.
Even though some of these companies may expand, they are all established in Bermuda already. There is very little in the legislation to encourage new businesses to come to the Island.
And Bermuda should be doing all it can to encourage entrepreneurs and entrepreneurism, including giving residence to people who wish to come to the Island and commit to a certain level of investment and hiring. It should not be forgotten that companies like Ace and XL started with just four or five employees, and no one can say today with any confidence who the successful businesses of the future will be.
Governments role in this is not to micro-manage companies human resources practices but to create a framework and infrastructure in which businesses can start up and thrive.
In fairness, Government does some of this through programmes like the Economic Empowerment Zones, but the reality today is that Bermuda, not specific geographic areas, needs to be an EEZ, with red tape kept to a minimum to enable businesses to grow and to hire. Instead, businesses today spend too much time grappling with bureaucrats instead of focusing on making their enterprises succeed.
This does not mean that there should be no employment rights, or that Bermudians should not have a fair crack at jobs and promotions. They absolutely should, but this has to be balanced against the understanding that there are times when expatriates can help to generate jobs for Bermudians. This is not a finite job market, although it is rapidly becoming one. If Bermuda is adding jobs, then Bermudians are getting jobs. But if jobs are being lost, then Bermudians are losing them as well.
The Job Makers Act is a step in the right direction, and some of the employment initiatives are too (even if training nail technicians will not be the economys salvation). But they may not be enough, when true structural reform is needed.
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