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Raise wages to ease construction shortage

Dear Sir

I draw your attention to an article that appeared in the edition published on August 20 under the headline “Builders eye pay rises for trades”, written by Fiona McWhirter and contributed to by Charles Dunstan.

In the article, Mr Dunstan highlighted some of the problems that exist in convincing young locals to enter the construction industry, especially drawing attention to the masonry trade.

He emphasised that this was despite the continuing need to fill posts.

As a former president of the forerunner to the Bermuda Public Service Union, and as a pastor, I have some experience of counselling and listening to the plights of others and also have always had a concern for Bermudians in the local workforce. There are many barriers in the way of advancement for all Bermudians in the construction industry, and these represent a serious deterrent to there being any interest to consider taking up construction as a career with the expectation of healthy financial reward.

The existing cost of living in Bermuda also creates its own problems for so many. All need to be aware of the serious problems that exist in Bermuda before expecting any improvement in the numbers of Bermudians entering the construction industry.

Awareness of the problems that face those with the required experience and training that are working in the industry now is important. This includes unfair exploitation of Bermudians by many employers, both large and small, and a systematic lockout by unfair and questionable practices.

All of these issues deter and discourage them and enable foreign workers from the Caribbean and elsewhere to enter local employment, usually at much lower hourly pay rates than those viewed as being standard. Very often, these are at $20 per hour and less.

To work in the industry, skilled and qualified Bermudians have to accept these same rates if they wish to be employed. Frequently, many are called on to also use their own construction vehicles and equipment with little or no remuneration for the same. I have been reliably informed that this is happening at one of our leading construction sites. As a result, there exists an exodus of skilled and qualified Bermudians leaving the industry, moving overseas and also seeking employment in other fields.

I suggest that against this background and these practices, a “climate” of attraction to young people to enter the industry simply does not exist.

Our government needs to reapply certification processes, which exist in name only, to legislate and compel employers to provide real on-the-job training and also academically, to apply systematic skill tests to ensure that employers hire qualified Bermudians before work permits for foreign workers are issued to enter employment in the local industry.