Stop making expat workers the enemy

  • Marcus Jones is the Senate Leader for the One Bermuda Alliance

    Marcus Jones is the Senate Leader for the One Bermuda Alliance

We have recently witnessed the departure of scores of expatriate workers returning to their homeland. More than 60 Portuguese nationals quit the island in a special repatriation flight because they had lost their jobs. Reports suggest many more are waiting to go. With the invasion of Covid-19, we have had to view life, business, sport, entertainment, and any other activity that we do, differently. This “new” normal should cause us, as Bermudians, to approach work with a different perspective.

The jobs we have frowned on and refused to do because they were beneath us, or did not pay a salary that sufficiently underwrote our lifestyle, needs to be a way of the past. The high-paying jobs that were in abundance in the 1990s and 2000s are not there any more, so we need to be willing to do the jobs we passed on and left for expats — jobs such as landscapers, waiters, commercial cleaners, domestic helpers, skilled labourers in construction and the like.

So, as we come out of this state of emergency, we must swallow our pride and be willing to do those jobs that we once looked down our noses at. Stop making the expat workers the enemy. Both political parties have maintained a stance of “Bermudians first” and we make no apologies for that. It is a position that should never be surrendered or compromised. But what disturbs me is the general “woe is me, the foreigners are taking my job” attitude. We Bermudians are made of stronger stuff than that.

Our parents and grandparents, who may not have had university degrees, did the work that was necessary to survive, put us through school, built their homes and have money saved for retirement to travel and enjoy the finer things in life in their declining years. If for whatever reason you were unable to go to university and qualify for that six-figure career job, or if you did graduate from higher learning and a job in your field is not readily available, humble yourself and pick up that paintbrush, lawnmower, serving tray or whatever tool is necessary to do the work.

Our forebears did it, the expat workers are doing it and, with persistence and disciplined spending habits, they are able to make a prosperous life for themselves and their families. Who knows, if you are industrious and have a good work ethic, maybe you can ascend to upper management and ownership within an industry that is a mainstay on this island. I can make this claim with authority because I worked full time as a waiter at a hotel after graduating from high school at 16. By the age of 37, I had worked through the hotel ranks and was made a general manager of a small-sized hotel here on the island. In between that time, I attended Bermuda College and a Canadian University to equip myself to qualify for the top job. Great outcomes start with small beginnings.

If working for someone else is not your forte, look to be an entrepreneur, one that can find enterprising opportunities as the economy reopens. Be willing to work those so-called “blue-collar” jobs while you prepare to be a business owner or engage in online further education to upgrade your skill set.

Why is it that we as Bermudians cannot see opportunity on our shores while that is all the foreigners see? Why are many of our family members pulling up stakes and pursuing opportunities abroad, rather than making it work for us here on our beloved island?

Because many times opportunity is disguised in work overalls and gloves, and we miss it.

At present, there are approximately 1,800 hotel workers unemployed owing to this pandemic. There is uncertainty over whether hotels will reopen or remain closed until next spring.

There is a predetermined break-even point in occupancy that every general manager within the industry will want to attain in the next few months to justify a decision to open now or wait until next year.

In the meantime, many of those expat workers who fill the jobs that traditionally Bermudians do not gravitate to, such as chefs and food and beverage servers, are seeing the unemployment benefits coming to an end with no guarantee of work. So, they will return to their countries and the hoteliers will not have enough staff on hand to open, if in a month’s time they can find a financial reason to reopen.

What do I see from this potential dilemma? Opportunity!

It is time for Bermudians, both young and old, to return to the hotel industry. Make yourself available for retraining in being a waiter, a chef, a spa attendant or a landscaper. Those of you who are already employed in the hotel industry must be willing to receive cross-training in other departments so that a room attendant can be cross-trained as a waiter, while a front desk clerk can upgrade their skills to be a sous chef in the kitchen.

Allow me to destroy a myth that remains a talking point among those who may not be in the business of hiring. As a general manager of a hotel with more than 100 employees, I preferred Bermudian workers and searched high and low to find them. I was not unique in that approach because most of my colleagues within the management fraternity of the hotel industry, both foreign and local, felt the same way.

I may be biased but there is no group of people on God’s earth that are friendlier and more personable than Bermudians.

So we desperately wanted Bermudians to sell our island’s attributes to the visitor when they checked them in, served them a beverage or cleaned their rooms. But too often we were dealing with workers who failed to show up to work, failed the drug test at the hiring stage or who had a poor work ethic.

Come on people, we are running a business and we need to provide top-notch service. So, as much as we want to hire and train our fellow Bermudians, we must have them commit to a good work ethic and a willingness to go the extra mile when called upon. Very few people are willing to admit this flaw in our local workforce, so we pretend it does not exist and claim that “foreigners are taking our jobs”.

Hospitality is part of our DNA as Bermudians and generations before us were able to generate enough wealth to give their families a great life. I know of a female housekeeping department staff member at one of our major hotels who through hard work, persistence and shrewd money management was able to purchase houses here on the island and overseas.

Don’t chase the money. Follow your passion with great diligence and purpose and the money will chase you. Be willing to make the career changes that suit your personality and your skill set. Here in Bermuda, as in other jurisdictions around the world, we will have to reinvent ourselves. This is not new, as we have been doing that as a nation since our inception more than 400 years ago.

We have been whalers, shipbuilders, privateers, tourism specialists and international reinsurance providers. This 21-square-mile piece of limestone, 650 miles from its closest major landmass to the west of us, has punched above its weight for centuries. What this economy is crying out for is for its people to be willing to do the jobs that we have over the past several decades been unwilling to do because we figured we were too educated to do them or they did not pay us enough. The Government’s unemployment benefit programme will come to a screeching halt. We do not want to create a generation of people that get comfortable with government assistance as a source of income.

We can appreciate that we are living through unusual and exceptional circumstances, but there comes a time when we have to dust ourselves off and be willing to do the jobs that our expat workers do, which under normal circumstances we would not venture to do ourselves.

Marcus Jones is Senate Leader for the One Bermuda Alliance

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Published Aug 5, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 5, 2020 at 8:24 am)

Stop making expat workers the enemy

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