Union leaders welcome relief package, but say more must be done to address cost of living
Union leaders said that a $15 million relief package would offer short-term relief, but called on the Government to deliver on “game changers” such as a livable wage.
Armell Thomas, the Bermuda Public Services Union president, said in a statement that the union wholeheartedly supported any attempt to put money back into workers’ pockets given the rising cost of food, energy and fuel.
However, he said the Government must still deliver “game changers” such as a livable wage, affordable healthcare and unemployment insurance.
“Throughout the pandemic, the workers of this country have had to make significant sacrifices and have faced life-changing decisions including taking pay cuts, working reduced hours, foregoing overtime pay and making withdrawals from their pension funds,” Mr Thomas said.
“Public officers of the BPSU membership agreed to accept austerity measures that assisted the Government in reducing its expenditure in the region of $150 million.
“In addition, the BPSU has repeatedly submitted to Government proposals on behalf of our membership that are aimed at reducing waste, cutting costs and generating additional revenue.
“Throughout the pandemic, the BPSU members have remain proudly on the front line, at times at personal risk, to maintain public services for the community at large.
“While elements of this relief package are welcomed, this initiative will only provide temporary, short-term relief.”
Mr Thomas added that the BPSU has continued to advocate a pragmatic, long-term approach to economic recovery and “equitable, sustainable and systemic changes” for the workers.
“The BPSU emphasises the importance of consultation and collaboration that invigorates a more pragmatic and human-centred approach to an economic recovery,” he said.
He added that the BPSU looked forward to working further with the Government to advance “essential deliverables”.
Mr Thomas noted that the relief package came while the Government was in negotiations over collective-bargaining agreements for public service unions.
He added: “With negotiations taking place, we have a responsibility to honour the terms of reference which prevents the disclosure of any details. However, we certainly hope that the economic relief is not causing a distraction or confusion with our members.”
Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, agreed that the measures would provide some relief but more action was needed to combat the high cost of living.
Mr Furbert said: “I would consider this a temporary relief package because what the people of Bermuda need is something that is long term.
“Until the Government makes a commitment to give serious consideration to bringing down the cost of living in Bermuda, as was mentioned in the BIU’s two-page ad on May 31, we are just kicking the can down the road.
“The time has come for the Government to invite all the key stakeholders to a two-day summit so we can have a discussion around how we can reduce the cost of living in Bermuda.
“Those discussions must centre around how we can improve the quality of life of Bermudians and their families. One of the main focuses of those discussions must be how can we put more money into the hands of the consumers the working people who support the economy.”
David Burt, the Premier, announced the $15 million relief plan in the House of Assembly on Friday.
The plan includes a payroll tax rebate of $250 for people who earn less than $60,000 a year and a $100 rebate for those who earn between $60,000 and $96,000.
The relief plan also includes support for school supplies, LED light bulbs for families to help to cut electricity bills and increased food allowance budget for the Department of Financial Assistance.
* This story has been updated to include comments from Chris Furbert, the president of the BIU.