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New minimum wage a start, but does not go far enough

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Dignified wage: Sheelagh Cooper, of Habitat for Humanity, wants Government to go further to address poverty in Bermuda (File photograph)

As a new minimum wage is introduced this week, one community advocate is praising the Government for trying, but said it has not gone far enough.

The rule coming into effect on Thursday requires employers to pay their employees $16.40 an hour, inclusive of any applicable gratuities.

“At least it is an attempt to control the outright exploitation of workers,” said Sheelagh Cooper, chair of Habitat for Humanity Bermuda. “However, by my calculation someone working a 40-hour week making this prescribed minimum wage [after paying the mandatory HIP and even before other deductions] would take home less than $550. Does anyone think this is a living wage in Bermuda?”

The Government’s goal is to ensure that all low-income earners have access to a dignified wage that affords the basic necessities.

Tina Laws, relationship coach and mediator, and former executive director of The Women’s Resource Centre, said relieving poverty will entail far more than $16.40 per hour.

Wider view: Tina Laws says the lack of resources are a contributing factor to why some domestic violence victims remain stuck in abusive relationships (File photograph)

“We must first address the cost of living for individuals who are working for minimum wage,” Ms Laws said. “For individuals to be healthy and whole, one must receive sufficient medical and dental benefits, housing and utilities, food, childcare, mental health support, transportation, gas, clothing, education and a realistic savings opportunity.”

She said the lack of most of these resources are a contributing factor to why some domestic violence victims remain stuck in bad relationships.

“Sufficient resources aren't provided for individuals receiving a livable wage, not to mention individuals receiving a minimum wage,” she said.

Juliana Snelling, founder of the Grateful Bread programme, says the new minimum wage is a start (File photograph)

Juliana Snelling, founder of food giveaway programme Grateful Bread, had a different take. She said as an attorney she has witnessed the attempted financial abuse of low-level, unrepresented workers.

“A minimum wage is a good and necessary thing for our island’s employees,” she said. “As for the amount of $16.40, I am no economist, but we have to start somewhere. The amount feels about right in terms of trying to strike a balance between workers getting paid enough and employers trying to keep everyone employed.”

However, she said teenagers in Bermuda generally earn about $20 per hour babysitting “without doing too much”.

“It feels dreadfully wrong that hard-working people like pot scrubbers, cleaners and so forth, should be earning anything less, when they have to make ends meet in a country that has the highest cost of living in the world,” she said.

Chef and nutritionist Ashley Tucker thinks the new minimum wage will have a negative impact on the local food service industry and small businesses (File photograph)

Ashley Tucker, a local chef and nutritionist running Bermuda’s Culinary Creation Centre, is no fan of the new minimum wage.

“I’m not an economist but $16.40 an hour is not merely reaching that standard or quality of life and, in essence, will still result in people having to work two and three jobs to make ends meet,” she said.

Ms Tucker said young people in the food industry reach out to her daily for help finding a job, or an extra hustle.

“They are often up against foreign workers who are enslaving themselves to work here,” she said. “Wages are so below standard that the local worker needs to work another job to afford life.”

She estimated that most chefs make from $30,000 to $50,000 a year.

She thought the new minimum wage would have a negative effect on the local food service industry particularly small businesses.

“Obviously, the big players in the game will be able to subsidise their food services with other avenues of business,” she said.

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Published May 29, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated May 29, 2023 at 7:11 am)

New minimum wage a start, but does not go far enough

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