Living wage could reduce exploitation’
A living wage mandated by law could be the “single biggest move” to reduce violence and exploitation on the island, a social campaigner said yesterday.
Sheelagh Cooper, chairwoman of Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda, said she hoped the introduction of a minimum wage will deliver opportunities for the island’s poorest people to provide for their families.
Ms Cooper, who founded The Coalition for the Protection of Children and this year retired as chairwoman, added: “Bermuda is one of the few democratic countries without a minimum wage and this has been, at least in part, responsible for the continued growth of an underclass the proportionate size of which is not healthy.
“This is particularly the case in the presence of a significant amount of highly visible wealth in the community.”
Ms Cooper’s backing came as politicians prepare to debate a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee report on the introduction of a minimum wage.
The bipartisan group, chaired by Rolfe Commissiong, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, last month presented proposals that could result in a minimum wage of $12.25 per hour being introduced next May.
It is suggested a “phase one” living wage would follow in 2021, with an amount to be decided by a body of experts along with trade union representatives and employer groups.
Calculations have suggested an hourly rate of $18.23.
Mr Commissiong tabled a motion in 2016, which lead to a mandate from the One Bermuda Alliance government to form a JSC that would look into the possibility of living-wage legislation.
Following the dissolution of Parliament and return to power of the PLP last year, the MP made a second move for a committee to be appointed.
The committee was created last October and drew on the views of a range of social, economic and business experts to compile its report.
Ms Cooper said: “I am hugely grateful for the dogged determination of Mr Commissiong to bring this forward and to the OBA government for giving him the opportunity.
“We are, gratefully, now led by a government that has committed themselves to addressing this critical source of inequity and those struggling families in the bottom economic quartile will hopefully have a chance to provide adequately for their families.
“In my opinion, this is the single biggest move that can be made to reduce violence and predatory behaviour in our community.”
Ms Cooper was among contributors listed in the JSC report, which said she “consistently illustrated that low-skilled, able-bodied, unemployed persons are usually trapped in cycles of dependency and accompanying debt due to the extraordinary cost of living”.
The report added that low-income wages on the island have not kept up with the cost of living since at least the 1990s.
The JSC highlighted that the cost of living in Bermuda was 98 per cent higher than in the United States and that was excluding rents, which are 146 per cent higher than in the US.
The report said the JSC backed other public policy changes, including reform of the tax system and efforts to “substantively reduce” the cost of living.
The report added: “We cannot and will not stop fighting for Bermudians and, in particular, those who need additional economic support.
“There is a cost-of-living crisis and we all have a part to play in changing the rules.
“The wage gap must be closed and we have to ensure that wages earned reflect the true costs of living in our community, and that everyone is able to earn what they need to support their families.”