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Burt says public sector pay cut to end as charities call for jobs drive

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Essential service: David Thompson, Earl Simons, Savannah Attride-Stirling, and Zahra Jabbar preparing meals for the hungry at Christ Church in Warwick (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A 10 per cent public sector pay cut last year will not be extended in the 2021-22 Budget, the Premier revealed last night.

David Burt wrote on twitter: “We are most proud to recognise the sacrifice of public sector workers by presenting a budget that does not ask them for an additional year of the 10% pay reduction”.

Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, said last May that loss of government revenue coupled with extra debt run up to cope with the effects of Covid-19 would require concessions from the public sector.

Public sector unions were asked to consider a 10 per cent cut for one year, along with a freeze on contributions to Social Insurance and the Public Service Superannuation Fund, so that workers would not see a drop in their take-home pay.

The move was accepted by Bermuda Industrial Union, the Bermuda Public Services Union and the Bermuda Union of Teachers, but faced opposition from organisations such as the Police Officers Association.

The news came as charity groups who support the unemployed yesterday appealed to the Minister of Finance to deliver on jobs when he unveils this year’s Budget this morning.

Churches and non-profit organisations said they had been swamped by demand over the past year – and that Curtis Dickinson’s Budget had to kick-start the economy to ease the poverty crisis.

They pointed out that Government had no official aid programmes except Financial Assistance.

They added that left the charity sector to provide what has become an essential service – feeding the island’s increasing number of poor people.

Mr Dickinson has promised no new taxes, but the Government has spent more than $300 million since last March to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

David Thompson runs a programme at Christ Church in Warwick which provides free meals.

He said: “The numbers are staggering. We serve 300 meals a day, six days a week.

“We estimate that, since we started the programme last April, we’ve served 60,000 meals – and the numbers are growing.”

Mr Thompson added: “We really haven’t had a huge amount of Government support. It’s come from the corporate sector and individuals.

“That’s not a criticism, I just think Government has far greater issues to deal with.

“What they really need to do to help is reinvigorate the economy.

“If they can energise the economy, maybe get tourism moving again – 600 people at the Southampton Princess lost their jobs in one go - that has to be the key.”

Mr Thompson said: “If Government can create the environment to enable people to get back to work, that would have an indirect benefit on us, because demand would go down.

“The people who come to us want to work. When they come here they ask if they can volunteer to do anything. But the jobs just aren’t there.

“And, while financial assistance might be available for some, red tape means it can take months before they get it.

“These people need to feed their families now.”

Danielle Riviere, the interim executive director of the Eliza Doolittle Society, backed Mr Thompson.

She said demand at the charity’s food bank had rocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but Government grants had been cut.

Ms Riviere added: “The reality is, Government is in a very difficult financial position.

“Government doesn’t have a national programme to deal with the homeless, or the unemployed, outside of Financial Assistance – it’s the non-profits that have always provided these services.”

She said: “If Government can do something to improve the economy, to increase the number of jobs, increase the number of people here, that would improve the situation.”

Elaine Butterfield, the executive director of the Women’s Resource Centre, said that charities were “fulfilling the social mandate of the Government“.

Ms Butterfield added: “The demand for our support services, like so many agencies, has increased by as much as 60 per cent during Covid-19.

“It will be no small feat for the Minister of Finance and the Government to put together a budget that accommodates everyone during these unprecedented times.”

Ms Butterfield said: “We would also like to see more consideration be given to homelessness.

“If I’m at my desk during the week, I watch with great heaviness at the folks line up for a meal at the Bermuda Cathedral feeding programme.

“The line is getting longer as the impact of Covid-19 becomes more of a reality and the demographic has changed.

“Many of these folks are homeless and there are more women, children and even folks in uniforms who are employed.”

Damon Hendrickson, a pastor, and a team of Restoration Ministries volunteers, gave out more than 400 bags of free groceries in less than two hours last Saturday.

He said: “The need is great. We had donation drives for the community before Covid, but Covid has exacerbated everything.

“It doesn’t discriminate. People who would never think that they would be in need have suddenly found themselves in that position.”

Mr Hendrickson added: “We can’t always look to Government for help. Instead we have to come together individually.”

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Published February 26, 2021 at 11:23 am (Updated February 26, 2021 at 11:23 am)

Burt says public sector pay cut to end as charities call for jobs drive

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