Log In

Reset Password

Government accused of trying to ‘wiggle their way out of a commitment to implement a living wage’

Panellists in 2019 discuss a living wage, including Phil Perinchief, lawyer; Cordell Riley, statistician; Rolfe Commissioning, chairman of the Joint Select Committee on the Establishment of a Living/Minimum Wage; Nathan Kowalski, chief financial officer at Anchor Investment Management; Lovitta Foggo, then Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, and Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union (File photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

A former Progressive Labour Party MP has gone on the offensive against the governing party over the lack of headway on a living wage for Bermuda.

Rolfe Commissiong, who pushed for a joint select committee on a living wage before the House of Assembly in 2016, questioned whether his former political colleagues were “afraid of going up against the entrenched power and privilege in this country”.

But Cordell Riley, chairman of the commission tasked with filing a report and recommendations on the living wage, said the issue was highly complex – and that the report would likely be presented by this autumn.

Mr Commissiong, who was MP for Pembroke South East before resigning in August of 2020, said the labour minister, Jason Hayward, had “kicked the can down the road” more than a year ago by delaying action until the bipartisan wage commission produced a second report on implementing a living wage.

The committee tabled its first living wage report in December 2018, while recommendations for a minimum wage went before MPs in June 2021.

At the time, Mr Hayward said the report would take at least another year to produce.

Last week Mr Commissiong told The Royal Gazette: “Even if the commission does come to the table with a living wage in the next few months, it’s nothing they can take credit for now – it’s already five years too late to effect meaningful change for those who have been furthered damaged – the working poor – by having to endure poverty level wages in Bermuda during that period.”

Requests last week for an update from the ministry on progress did not get a response by press time this weekend.

Mr Commissiong also highlighted that Mr Hayward “said during the Budget debate in 2021 that he would put pressure on the commission to present the living wage”.

In remarks during the House of Assembly’s debate on the Government’s economic recovery plan on June 4, 2021, Mr Hayward said he would ask for the report to be drawn up in six months rather than a year.

A living wage is defined as the minimum income for a worker to cover the basic needs of their household.

The 2018 report also proposed the gradual introduction of a minimum wage, starting at about 40 per cent of the median wage income.

Mr Commissiong said: “The only reason why minimum wage came into the discussion was a wage scale that could be applied to those who earned gratuities, tips and commissions.

“The focus was on the primary objective, which is the living wage.”

Mr Hayward raised the topic in the Youth Employment Strategy unveiled in early June.

The document states that the ministry is “in the process of implementing a minimum and living wage in Bermuda, which will establish a wage floor”.

It adds that the move would especially benefit “young persons, who as a group have maintained the lowest median annual income for several years”.

Mr Commissiong called the move “putting a toe into the water”. “They appear to be trying to wiggle their way out of a commitment to implement a living wage,” he added.

Speaking to the Gazette on Friday in the aftermath of a fatal shooting in Smith’s that wounded a second man, Mr Commissiong said: “It is a continuing tragedy that young Black men are still getting gunned down and murdered in Bermuda.

“So let me say here to the family of the deceased, my heart goes out to them and to the young man who also was shot and survived.”

He added: “But know this, there is from a public policy perspective a link between the lack of a living wage and what is taking place in Bermuda today, which has been occurring for the last 20 years.”

Mr Commissiong said the backdrop of “the socio-economic marginalisation of a subgroup of largely young Black men” shed light on “why these deadly outcomes continue to replicate”.

He said the living wage was “but one necessary response” to combat gun violence.

Mr Riley said the project was put out to tender for expert assistance in drawing up recommendations.

He said the commission put out a request for proposal to have the second report finished by the end of March.

But three vendors, local and overseas, responded saying that “the timeline was far too short”, Mr Riley said.

“One of the world’s leading experts on this matter said Bermuda was very complex.”

He said the commission continued to meet and liaise with the ministry.

“It’s not something we can rush through. Bermuda is doing this for the first time.

“It has taken longer than anticipated but we are looking to get it completed before the end of the year.

“We’re hoping by the fall or going into November. The work continues.”

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published July 05, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated July 05, 2022 at 2:05 pm)

Government accused of trying to ‘wiggle their way out of a commitment to implement a living wage’

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon