With 2,000 unemployed, why are so few Bermudians in low-skilled jobs?

  • <B>Thousands of Bermudians</B> are unemployed, yet many low-skilled positions, such as potwashers, are filled by guest workers. Government Minister Michael Fahy and Shadow Minister Walter Roban have differing views on why that is so.

    Thousands of Bermudians are unemployed, yet many low-skilled positions, such as potwashers, are filled by guest workers. Government Minister Michael Fahy and Shadow Minister Walter Roban have differing views on why that is so.
    ((Photo by Akil Simmons))

Over 2,000 Bermudians are registered at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), a figure that fluctuates on a regular basis, but not all of the individuals on the database are unemployed.

“Some are underemployed and seeking more significant employment opportunities. They include experienced labourers and those with varying levels of technical, middle management level experience and skill sets,” said a Government spokeswoman.

Critics have questioned the employment of low-skilled guest workers at a time when jobs are scarce with Bermudians out of work.

In part four of The Royal Gazette’s ‘Immigration Matters’ series, Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy and Shadow Minister Walter Roban discussed the issue.

The main reason Bermudians are not heavily employed in low-skilled jobs cited by the Minister was the low pay and they don’t apply for the jobs.

“It’s as simple as that, Bermudians simply haven’t applied for the jobs in these sectors,” said Sen Fahy.

Quite often, he said, Bermudians who take a low paid job inevitably move on to a better position with more pay leaving the employer to train someone else all over again.

And he said “a lot of Bermudians cannot make the time or work the lengthy hours required because they’re already working two or three part-time jobs”. Long schedules also present problems for Bermudian employees with families and young children, said the Minister.

He explained: “It’s not easy for them to make 6am, buses are not running to make that time, so you need transportation to get there. A lot of Bermudians won’t even apply for those positions because of the hours.

“That’s not saying Bermudians are lazy, I’m not saying that. It’s more difficult from the experience that I have seen for Bermudians because they have any number of other positions; that’s what I’m surmising.

“If Bermudians are applying for those types of positions, then they should be hired.”

One of the highest job turnover rates is in the area of pot washers.

“They’re not paid a lot. It’s a lot of hard work and Bermudians can find better jobs that pay more; it’s a very fine line,” said Sen Fahy.

He conceded that quite often employers paint Bermudians with a broad brush that labels them as lazy.

“Yes, so many people do that. But I don’t agree with that although a lot of times we as Bermudians are our own worst enemy.”

But the Shadow Minister Mr Roban disagreed and said as far as he and his colleagues are concerned Bermudians are applying for jobs and they are turned away.

“I don’t know where the Minister is getting his information from because clearly people wouldn’t be raising the issue if they hadn’t applied for those jobs.

“Bermudians are applying for all sorts of jobs and not getting them and there are still some employers who feel that they can find a way around the process,” said Mr Roban.

He stressed that “not every employer is the same and not all of them are committing violations”.

“Let’s make that clear, there’s lots of good, responsible employers who engage with the Immigration Department positively. But there are those who continuously flout the process who literally don’t want to employ Bermudians.”

He recalled the case of one employer who told Immigration officials that he would shut his business down before he hired a single Bermudian.

“Frankly, those are people who shouldn’t be running businesses here because their only interest in the Bermudian marketplace is what they can make out of it. If the Immigration Department in its work sees these types of employers they should be the employers who get the least amount of assistance,” he said.

“There’s a combination of things that makes some employers like that. There may be racism in it or it may be part of a few bad experiences with Bermudians.

“I can appreciate and understand an employer who has had a number of experiences.” But, he said: “One bad apple shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch.”

Mr Roban said that, essentially, cases like that result in the “innocent suffering for the guilty”.

“That’s what we’re seeing and in an environment where everybody is looking for work we’re seeing it even more.”

He also recalled the pushback when the former PLP Government closed job categories to foreigners in landscaping and other lower skilled hospitality jobs. He noted the Minister has mentioned more restrictions in certain categories as well.

“I agree with that and if the data is showing him that there are people with certain skill sets who are unemployed in areas where non-Bermudians are employed he should push those Bermudians who are registered into those categories.”

Instead however, he said the Minister and his Government has focused on all the “high end stuff” instead of concentrating on Bermudians.

“Many of the policies this Minister and his Government have made have frankly been to aid those businesses first and foremost as a priority.

“The OBA Government has had less of a priority in finding ways to employ Bermudians to get them back in the workplace.

“Even if you just take Immigration out of it, their priority was not helping Bermudians survive or get retrained, or to find appropriate work or to assist them in managing themselves through this period.”

He also dismissed the Minister’s assertion that Bermudians don’t apply for the low-skilled, low paying jobs.

Mr Roban said: “I’ve not seen any evidence of that, I don’t agree with the Minister on that and frankly I don’t trust much of what the Minister says.”

But they both encouraged Bermudians looking for gainful employment to register at the DWD which also encourages employers to use their client list as part of their recruitment process.

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Published Jul 4, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 3, 2013 at 9:58 pm)

With 2,000 unemployed, why are so few Bermudians in low-skilled jobs?

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