Hayward: Bermuda needs to dramatically increase working-age population
The Bermuda Government aims to raise the working population by 25 per cent over the next five years in an “aggressive” strategy to head off a rapidly ageing population, the economy and labour minister revealed this afternoon.
Jason Hayward announced a strategy in which the Government needed to get an estimated 8,418 extra people working at a rate of 1,684 additional workers, or a 5 per cent annual increase, over five years.
In response, the Opposition accused the ruling party of politicising longstanding problems with the island’s workforce and demographics.
The document announced by Mr Hayward, titled Addressing the Challenge of an Ageing Population in Bermuda, outlined strategies in emigration, immigration, new business development and labour policy changes.
The paper went public as Mr Hayward said Bermuda faces a reckoning with a rising senior population overwhelming workers and hindering economic growth.
The ministry’s workforce goals, which are headed for public consultation, are laid out in a “position paper” explaining the Government’s stance on the impending demographic crisis.
The minister listed repatriation, getting able-bodied people linked with jobs and a necessary “injection of new business”.
He also hinted at “adjusting the retirement age” as a labour policy change, saying that “raising the retirement age is one labour policy option that can be utilised”.
The position paper noted the Government’s 2020 Throne Speech pledge to increase Bermuda’s residential population to support economic growth — repeated in 2021 as one of the steps needed for economic recovery.
But promoting large-scale immigration, often described as “the third rail” of Bermudian politics, would mark a significant departure from the traditional Progressive Labour Party ethos.
A move under the One Bermuda Alliance administration to boost the population through an immigration policy known as Pathways to Status brought thousands of PLP supporters out in protests in 2016.
Demonstrators blockaded the House of Assembly in a standoff across several days to prevent the legislators from debating the plan.
Jarion Richardson, deputy leader of the OBA, responded to Mr Hayward’s announcement by saying: “Here we go again.
“At some point, the Government must stop publishing what we all know and start making the hard decisions.
“Bermudians have left the island in droves over the last few years and sadly we can’t even say how many because it seems, quite frankly, that the PLP Government didn’t care.”
He added: “At one point it was young people who were leaving, now sadly, it’s seniors and those who are soon to be, so that they can find easier ways to enjoy their golden years. A travesty.”
Mr Richardson said if the island failed to boost its working population, the outcome would be “even worse”.
“This is exactly what happens when we successfully politicise demographics and economics.
“The subsequent tinkering with work permits has failed. The PLP Government has failed with immigration reform under successive ministers.
“They’ve chased away those from overseas and Bermudians alike — we’ve created economic refugees.”
Mr Richardson said the island’s economy and healthcare were declining, adding: “The delay in comprehensive immigration reform has made our situation even more precarious and the consequences of failure even worse.
“It’s time for Government to give up on the easy decisions and start making hard decisions.
“The time for proposing, discussing, reviewing and considering has long since passed.”
Keith Jensen, the president of the Bermuda Employers’ Council, said the group welcomed the release of data with the effort to “come to grips with the difficult economic problem of a shrinking official workforce and a growing, ageing population”.
“Arresting the net decline in the official workforce and moving it to a net increase every year can only benefit the entire economy and residents, help contain the costs of everyone’s health insurance, secure the future of social insurance pensions and provide increasing tax revenue.”
Mr Jensen added: “Any ambitious plan will have to ensure that businesses will have confidence in the future, deal with a minimum of red tape and will have productive, committed employees in order to attract investment.”
He said the BEC looked forward to working with social partners on “plans for the benefit of the island”.
Mr Hayward’s announcement came against a backdrop of figures illustrating the imbalance looming in the island’s population.
He said the 2016-26 population projections showed a falling birth rate and a rise in the median age from 44.6 to 48.6.
By 2026, seniors will comprise almost a quarter of the population, while the main working group from ages 25 to 64 is expected to decline.
Mr Hayward warned this stood to “directly impact Bermuda’s ability to maintain sustainable economic growth”.
The position paper, online at the ministry’s website, will “state the Government’s position on the demographic challenge” and detail “the approach it will take”.
He added that “a round-table discussion on Bermuda’s ageing population” would be held, with details provided in “the coming weeks”.
The forum is to be broadcast, with Mr Hayward encouraging residents to tune in and listen to “this discussion that is vital to the future of our country”.
He highlighted the island’s old-age dependency ratio, defined as the number of people aged 65 and over per 100 people of working age.
In 2017, Bermuda’s ratio stood at 28 — but it is forecast to “soar” to 43.6 by 2026, Mr Hayward said.
This would put the island beyond the projected average for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Mr Hayward warned of increased costs, economic slowdown and “a rise in healthcare costs in particular” unless the island acts to avert the problem.
• To read the position paper in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.