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Cheap foreign labour is undercutting Bermudians

Dear Sir,

I was born in a blue-collar working family and I came up watching my grandmother and mother struggle to make ends meet, putting clothes on our backs and food on the table.

As far as I could remember my mother had worked in most of the hotels and guesthouses in Bermuda back then. She spent most of her working life, as far as I know, as a dining-room waitress and spent very little time at home as she had to work both day and night.

I remember my mother leaving home very early in the mornings to be at work to do breakfast. She would be back home at about noon to get a couple of hours rest before leaving again late in the afternoon to do dinner that evening and did not return back home until late at night.

My grandmother on the other hand was too old to work in the hotels, but did odd jobs for other people like washing and ironing clothes and cleaning houses.

Whenever my grandmother and mother were away from the house and working at the same time, my brothers and sisters and I had to find something to do at the house or we went and played at the homes of some of our friends since there was no adult at the house to watch us.

Working in the hotels back in those days was very hard; the working conditions were at their poorest. Back then, black people could not stay in any of Bermuda’s major hotels and guesthouses because of the practice of segregation, and all the black employees had to enter these premises by the back door.

Since there was no union recognition in the hotels back then, working conditions and pay were bad. There were no proper changing rooms or rest places where employees could secure their clothes and property, and there were no type of benefits being paid at all.

Whenever it was found out that a black worker was pregnant, she was fired from her job and was totally out in the cold on her own like my mother was on a few occasions.

Even with the intervention of union recognition, the struggle for better wages and conditions was a challenge, the gains that were made did not come easy.

We have to face it, blue-collar workers are not necessarily technically minded people and are too busy trying to make ends meet to worry or know about what plans are being hatched in the secret chambers of their employers to suppress them.

Today, there has been a vast negative shift on the employment landscape where most working Bermudians were just satisfied with having a simple job; it would appear that those days are gone. Employers now bring in cheap labour from other countries, which undercuts the cost of paying Bermudians a higher wage — which is needed to live in Bermuda, where the cost of living has since gone through the roof.

It has now reached the point when someone could be brought in from another country to just sweep the floor over a Bermudian that lives in Bermuda who is well able to do that same job.

There is a challenge now going forward in Parliament to develop, bring forth and pass legislation to force employers to pay a living wage to all who are employed by them.

Hundreds of Bermudians have since left Bermuda to find work in other countries because they are unable to find work here. We have to realise that we have been fast asleep at the wheel and it seems that while we were sleeping at the wheel we have slipped back quite a distance.