2017 Throne Speech
Living wage is PLP priority
A living-wage policy is on the cards as the new Progressive Labour Party government outlined its plans for its first year in power.
The Governor, John Rankin, who delivered the Throne Speech to mark the start of Parliament yesterday, said: “To ensure that workers can live in dignity and are not working simply to remain in poverty, the Government will support a new parliamentary committee to complete the work that was started in the last Parliament to examine the living wage.
“This committee will present Parliament with recommendations for a living wage in Bermuda.”
A tax reform commission is also to be set up, including MPs from both parties, the business world and trade unions and the Bermuda Bar, in a bid to streamline the island’s tax system and recommend reforms “that enhance Bermuda’s international competitiveness and increase tax compliance”.
The new administration said it would “selectively release information pertaining to sex offenders to members of the public”.
Mr Rankin said: “Offenders and the disclosure of their information will be managed according to the risk they pose to the public.
“Since the election, the new government has created a protocol on disclosure of information identifying a sex offender and this will be distributed among stakeholders to formalise a systematic approach to minimising the risks posed to the public by high-risk offenders.”
The Government also vowed to bring in new ways of tackling gang warfare, including a gang violence reduction co-ordinator and financial support for gang members who want to break free of the lifestyle and learn a trade or go into education.
At the same time, the financial assistance system will be reviewed, with new rules to make recipients of aid improve their employment prospects.
Mr Rankin said: “This review will require able-bodied, unemployed persons who are receiving assistance to upgrade their education and skills to facilitate their return to the workforce.
“Financial assistance should encourage people to find work; therefore, people who take a part-time position will not find themselves penalised.
“This government will reform financial assistance to reduce abuse, discourage dependency and ensure that work pays.”
Legislation will be introduced to decriminalise cannabis possession of the amount under 7 grams. Mr Rankin said: “The criminalisation of our citizens for minor, non-violent possession of cannabis is an open sore on our society, damaging the lives of hundreds of Bermudians, young and old.
“This is also an issue of fairness as black people in our society are far more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted for cannabis possession than white people.”
The menace of drink-driving is also set for a crackdown with sobriety checkpoints and increased penalties for people caught over the limit on the roads.
The Government is to look at the introduction of a “sugar tax” on the sale of some foods and drinks.
Mr Rankin said: “While unhealthy foods are often appealing due to their lower prices, the cost of treatment is significantly higher than the cost of prevention.”
He added: “Food prices are too high in Bermuda and the high cost is even more evident when one wants to feed their family healthier options.
“Bringing down the cost of food will require a collective effort and original thinking to be successful and sustainable.”
Mr Rankin said: “Accordingly, the Government will grant the Price Control Commission additional powers and scope to find innovative ways to reduce the cost of living in Bermuda.”
The Government added it was committed to changes in the island’s immigration policies.
Mr Rankin said employers are not legally forced to provide the same pension benefits to expatriate workers as they give to Bermudians, which makes it more expensive to employ Bermudians.
He added: “In collaboration with employers and the Bermuda Trade Union Congress, this government will update pension legislation to require equal treatment for Bermudian and expatriate workers while also updating labour legislation to ensure that labour disputes are handled more effectively and labour rights are protected.”
A bipartisan committee on immigration reform was formed in a bid to overhaul legislation dating back to 1956.
The Government said it would beef up the Police Complaints Authority in a bid to “give ordinary citizens greater confidence” in its independence.
A parliamentary committee will be established to look at the disorder of December 2 last year, when pepper spray was deployed against demonstrators outside Parliament.
A Bill to create a Police Authority will also be introduced to establish police priorities and funding needs.
Conscription into the military, which has not been used for several years, will be abolished, while the Royal Bermuda Regiment will take over Marine Police duties and free officers for other duties.
The Government said that “limited lending options” and austerity measures had hit hard.
Mr Rankin said: “Therefore, during this session, the Government will explore the best means by which to expand banking options available to Bermudians and increase the opportunities available to finance their legitimate aspirations in this society.”
Debt collection agencies, as well as legalised loan sharks, will be policed under new consumer protection legislation.
In addition, banking insurance services and other financials services will also be governed by the new rules.
The Government added it would introduce a new loans guarantee scheme for community and sports clubs to “upgrade their facilities, develop programmes to serve our youth, spur entrepreneurship and ensure greater community outreach in their parishes and neighbourhoods”.
The island’s America’s Cup authority, the ACBDA, will become the Bermuda Event Authority to build on the experience of hosting the international sailing competition.
Mr Rankins said: “However, the new authority will be constituted to utilise a far more diverse and inclusive approach to finding, attracting and managing events.
“Bermuda is more than golf, rugby and sailing and there exists the capacity to grow events that attract, younger, more cosmopolitan and more diverse visitors to our shores.”
Mr Rankin added: “Bermuda can do better. Bermuda can transform our education system to prepare the next generation of CEOs and tradesmen. Bermuda can diversify our economy to create new jobs and encourage economic growth.
“Bermuda can heal our social fabric to restore peace and rebuild our sense of community.
“However, Bermuda will only do better when all segments of our society work together to ensure that Bermuda becomes more fair, more just and more equitable.”
• To read the Throne Speech in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”
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