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Bermuda in very sad state, says union leader

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Leading from the front: Jason Hayward, president of the BPSU, centre, during the annual Labour Day march, which started on Union Street and drew large crowds (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Union leaders lamented the state of the island on Labour Day yesterday, accusing the Bermuda Government of misfiring policies and misspending money when the people are struggling.

Hundreds of people gathered at Union Street ahead of the annual march, huddled beneath umbrellas amid the rain as leaders delivered speeches urging them to stand together.

Shannon James, president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, took the lead three days before the island’s public schoolchildren return to the classroom after the summer holidays.

Mr James compared the status of the island to Babylon, noting a range of issues including the airport redevelopment project, the lack of an education commissioner and the decision to repair the Cabinet offices before schools.

“Something is wrong,” he said. “The biblical scholar will say these are the end of days. These things will happen. The conservative person will say the system is broken. The revolutionist will say the system is alive and well. It’s just doing what it’s supposed to do.”

He noted the number of Bermudians leaving the island looking for opportunities, calling it a sad day.

“Didn’t we transform Dockyard?” he asked. “Didn’t we create nine acres that were not in existence last year at this time? And you are telling me it’s too hard to fix education? It’s too hard to give our students the schools they deserve?”

Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, meanwhile questioned the decision to invest money in renovations to a minister’s office while union members have not seen a pay increase in five years.

He reiterated calls for the establishment of a living wage in Bermuda and addressed the issue of pay disparity.

“We need to have a hard conversation about how we are going to move this whole thing about a minimum wage and wage disparity in the right direction,” he said. “All around the world they are having conversations about having a living wage. About how you can be above the poverty level and not be begging for this or begging for that.”

Mr Furbert also noted immigration issues, saying that someone “very dear to us” had his work permit expire in July and has yet to hear if it will be extended.

While he said he would not identify the person in front of the media cameras, he said: “The government is not supposed to be interfering with work permits. When you hear a minister has taken a file from the Chief Immigration Officer, that should be concerning to everyone. Everyone.

“If the government thinks they can play games with this one, then the house of cards will come tumbling down. We will do everything in our power to make sure that this will not happen. Make no mistake about it, this is a very serious matter.”

Jason Hayward, president of the Bermuda Public Service Union, also lamented the status of the island, saying that a number of people no longer view Bermuda as paradise.

“It is a very sad state we are presently in,” he said. “Something is fundamentally wrong with our system. The government has failed to put policies in place that increase employment. They have failed to encourage the private sector to create jobs. The latest job numbers will show that Bermuda has lost jobs again. This is alarming, because when Bermuda loses jobs, it means less employment opportunities for our people. When we look at the numbers, what is equally alarming is the fact that while Bermudians lost jobs, our expatriate brothers and sisters increased in their job numbers.”

He said that many have already given up, and that even many of those who are employed are struggling.

“We used to call it living paycheque-to-paycheque,” he said. “Sometimes people can’t even make it to the next paycheque without asking someone for a loan just to get by until the end of the month.”

And Leroy Simmons, president of the Bermuda Entertainment Union, questioned why the recent Troika production of The Colour Purple that featured an entirely Bermudian cast was unable to get funding from the Bermuda Tourism Authority, but the BTA invests funds into the Bermuda Festival which features international performers.

Labour Day: Bermuda Triangle AllStars Inc (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Labour Day: Reverend Nicholas Tweed and BIU President Chris Furbert (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Labour Day: The Bermuda Rifle and Drill Team (Photograph by Akil Simmons)