Azores mercy repatriation flight scheduled
Employers were urged to treat Portuguese staff fairly as a charter flight today prepared to take off for the Azores.
Andrea Moniz-DeSouza, the Honorary Consul of Portugal, wrote on Facebook last Friday that the consulate had received “queries from Portuguese nationals who will be leaving Bermuda, in relation to their rights relating to payment of their repatriation flights, vacation pay never received and unpaid salaries”.
A spokeswoman for Skyport, the airport management company, said yesterday the company could not reveal the number of people booked on the Azores Airlines flight, scheduled to leave at 1.40pm.
But a source linked to the flight, who asked not to be identified, said there were 62 people leaving the island.
The flight will also bring 22 people who had been stuck in the Azores and wanted to return to Bermuda.
The source said: “People are out of work for all kinds of reasons.
“They’re in dire need. It was an expensive flight to arrange, but people are desperate to go home.”
Ms Moniz-DeSouza wrote in her Facebook post: “While there is not anything that we at the consulate can do in relation [to] forcing employers to act in any manner, and we can only assist in these matters, by directing people to the appropriate Bermuda Government department.
“I would urge employers to be fair and appropriately deal with these matters, especially as the last few months have been difficult to everyone.”
Ms Moniz-DeSouza added: “Thank you in advance.”
The flight will take passengers to Ponta Delgada, on São Miguel Island, in the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal.
The head of one landscaping company said yesterday: “A lot of work permits have been turned down.
“It’s a disaster; we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The industry, which is popular with workers from the Azores, has in the past struggled to recruit Bermudians.
The business owner asked not to be identified because he awaited decisions on several work permits.
He added: “I haven’t lost any yet. But I have heard from a few mates who have had them turned down. We can’t survive if we just hired Bermudians.”
He said clients of landscaping firms needed to make their concerns known to the Government.
Two firms contacted yesterday said they had taken on out-of-work Bermudians in recent times, but they had left the job in a matter of hours.
Jeff Sousa, a former MP and the owner and founder of Sousa’s Landscape Management, said he had heard “rumblings” of permits being denied.
Mr Sousa added: “I haven’t been directly involved, but this is obviously coming about because of the pandemic.
“This is Bermuda, and we must first and foremost take care of our people.
“But I do want to emphasise that allowing companies to keep their experienced people is critical.
“If you add a person, he will be shadowing a person that’s experienced. That’s key.”
Mr Sousa said training for incoming Bermudians was “essential — it’s not just cutting grass and hedges”.
“If a company doesn’t have experienced landscapers in their ranks and a work permit for a non-Bermudian isn’t renewed, it makes it difficult.”
Another company head said he had lost three overseas staff members, who had decided to return home and that he could not find Bermudian workers to replace them, who had the needed three years’ of experience.
He said: “It’s not a Bermudian industry at all. We’ve gone through these phases before, where they’re not signing permits.
“I have gone to the ministers at the time to talk about it and that’s worked, but I think, do I want to keep going like this?”
He said reports of work permits getting denied caused “anxiety” in a business known for long hours, hard work and hot conditions.
Another business owner said: “I’ve got a couple of applications in for months. I did it through an agency. I’ve been trying to get answers and not getting any.”
A moratorium was placed on work permits in landscaping in 2011 in an effort to boost the numbers of Bermudians employed in the industry. It was lifted the following year.
The Bermuda Government last year invested $20,000 in educational grants for Bermudian landscapers to get qualifications from Bermuda College.
Jason Hayward, the labour minister, was asked yesterday if the ministry was aware of difficulties affecting work permits for landscapers, and if there had been a change in policy.
He did not respond by press time last night.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put thousands of Bermudians out of work and on to unemployment benefits, with the last round of payments going out for the majority of claimants on Friday.
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