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Work permit violations could soon earn fines of $5,000 on first offence

The House of Assembly passed new legislation designed to give Bermuda's work permit compliance regime stronger enforcement powers.

And whistle-blower amendments would also give workers greater safety in disclosing work permit violations, without fear of reprisals, Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley told MPs.

Opposition MPs threw their support behind the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Amendment (No. 2) Bill, 2013 — but told Government that its worth would be shown in its execution.

Telling the House that “failed economic policies” had fuelled the Island's four-year drop in jobs, Mr Dunkley presented the bill as “the right balance” between encouraging business, and bringing Bermuda's laws in line with those of competitor jurisdictions.

Mr Dunkley said the bill's most progressive aspect was the right of the Chief Immigration Officer to impose civil penalties on bosses or work permit holders found guilty of work permit violations.

A first offence carries a $5,000 fine, with $10,000 for subsequent offences within seven years. Decisions can be appealed before the Supreme Court.

Existing legislation had allowed violators to “generally get away with a warning letter” or “insignificant fines”, Mr Dunkley said.

A total of 19 warning letters for non-compliance have been issued since the start of the year, he added, signalling a more robust enforcement of existing policy.

He said a work permit stakeholder group would work with the Department of Immigration on amendments for a code of practice and ethical standards, and investigation methods for immigration offences.

“Compliance officers will undergo intensive training to strengthen their skills,” Mr Dunkley added, calling the legislation “yet another promise made and another promise delivered.”

Shadow Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban signalled the Progressive Labour Party had no objections — but said the Opposition would keep “a watchful eye” on the issuance of work permits in the meantime.

Praising the whistle-blower amendment, Mr Roban said: “Let's make it clear. This isn't just about Bermudian workers. We're also concerned that our migrant workers are also treated well.”

Government Whip Cole Simons commended the requirement that employers disclose all Bermudian applicants interviewed, but suggested this be extended to include those who had applied as well.

“A lot of Bermudians are discouraged in going forward to an interview, even though they're qualified,” Mr Simons explained.

Progressive Labour Party MP Walton Brown commended the bill's “moral compass”, but called for Government to enact random checks to ensure that domestic worker contracts were being honoured.

And Shadow Finance Minister David Burt asked why the Minister had felt on-the-spot ticketing, along with a name and shame list, were “too draconian”.

Mr Dunkley responded the ticketing didn't allow for the natural justice problem — while a name-and-shame register presented constitutional issues.

Minister of Public Safety Michael Dunkley. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published September 30, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 30, 2013 at 9:46 am)

Work permit violations could soon earn fines of $5,000 on first offence

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