The need for a living wage
There was a time when the workers of Bermuda had no representation either in Parliament, the workplace or by way of any union recognition — no support at all.
I remember the days when my mother went to work in the hotels. She never saw her wage rise for almost ten years, while over that same period the cost of living had long ago gone through the roof many times over.
There was no such thing as paid vacation time, sick time or a paid-up job insurance scheme of any kind. There was no overtime being paid out; people just got paid a flat rate, if that at all.
My mother had to work long hours each day for six days a week. Sometimes she went to work on her day off to make some extra money, but that was at the same flat rate of pay as her regular workdays.
As one who has always worked as a blue-collar worker for well in excess of 50 years, I know full well the many challenges we as low-level workers had to go through to fight to get a better wage.
I also recognise that the work environment was not the same from one job to the next. I also know that not all the bosses were bad people. But I do know that some of these people did whatever they could to suppress the upward mobility and development of their workers, and in some cases that is still the situation today.
The workers have always taken the blame for the uptick in the cost of living whenever they had to go out and defend their right to strike for a better wage. When I was out in the workforce, I could never remember an even balance between the workers’ pay scale and the cost of living. Whenever we got a pay rise, you can rest assured within less than three months or thereabouts, the cost of living went up — eating away whatever little gains the workers had made in their last contract.
In Bermuda, as far as I can remember, we have never had a law in place to support a minimum wage or an annual automatic cost-of-living adjustment to keep pace with the fast rise in the cost of living.
The downside of the matter is that a lot of the gains that the workers had made over the past decades have now almost just about been wiped out, and there seems to be an all-out aggressive attack on cutting back, not only the gains made by the workers over the years, but also their legal rights.
Since which, we now see the displacement and disposal of the local blue-collar worker since the importation and introduction of cheap labour into Bermuda. Which in turn has caused an imbalance within the local workforce and Bermudian workers.
It is difficult to believe in these modern times that there are people taking home “chump” change after deductions. I remember my son going to work and putting in many hours at one of Bermuda’s most popular hotels. The only thing it seemed that he was working for after deductions was to be able to just pay for his health insurance. To think that an employer would deliberately, in an expensive place such as Bermuda, pay an employee a wage that was impossible to live on.
There are certain businesses in the City of Hamilton I no longer shop at because of the degrading way in which they handle their employees. The time has now arrived that the Government must take the bull by the horns and implement legislation that would force unscrupulous employers by law to pay their employees a living wage that is compatible to that of the cost of living standards in Bermuda.
It is at times such as these that I find myself facing that nagging and painful question: did slavery really end back in 1834 or has it been newly revised to fit into today’s modern-day society?
I’m just asking. The need for a living wage is now.
E. McNEIL STOVELL
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