Brown: PLP has evolved ‘position’ on permits
The Progressive Labour Party's position on work permits for key personnel “has certainly evolved over the past ten years”, according to Shadow Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown.
The PLP has criticised the One Bermuda Alliance for denying the Reverend Nicholas Tweed a work permit, which led to protests and industrial action by his supporters in the People's Campaign and Bermuda Industrial Union.
But Mr Brown's claim that his party would have handled the issue differently prompted a backlash on social media, with commentators reflecting on a controversy involving the church and immigration during the PLP's years in power.
In 2003, St Paul's Church in Paget wanted to appoint the Reverend Brian Porter, a Canadian rector, but was told it would have to appoint Bermudian-status Carl Williams instead.
When expatriate minister Alan Tilson tried to fill in as priest, he was threatened with arrest by immigration officers, a move likened to Nazi Germany by Anglican Bishop Ewen Ratteray.
Immigration minister Terry Lister said at the time that spiritual leaders should respect the law.
Yesterday, Mr Brown said that his party's position had moved since then, and that the OBA should have consulted with the church.
“The PLP position has certainly evolved over the past 10 years and one dual aim is to give companies and other organisations, including churches, the ability to hire the key people they need while maximising opportunities for Bermudians.
“The key is balance. The case involving Reverend Tweed shows that when it comes to churches, the OBA has not engaged in the level of consultation with this sector to the extent it did with international business.
“Many of the concerns of business have now been codified in a new work permit policy and it is relatively straightforward for them to abide by the rules. In the absence of careful consideration of the specific matters involving religious appointments, I would have acted, in the first instance, to honour the custom and practice regarding the AME work permit application process.
“The next step — what the next PLP government will do — would be to consult and work with the faith community to address the concerns they have regarding the work permit process and the need for prioritising Bermudians and then have these matters addressed in a revised policy.
“We stand by our position that immigration policy should not be dictated by who holds the reins of power and requires a collaborative approach.”
Contacted about the Mr Williams case, Mr Lister replied: “Like me, it is an old matter and long past its time. I am happily retired and take no part in politics.”
The Bermuda Government said Mr Tweed's application was rejected because of inaccuracies surrounding his name and marital status, and because his employer St Paul AME Church did not advertise the position to give a Bermudian the chance to apply first.
The PLP has argued that the OBA has a political agenda against Mr Tweed, a prominent member of the People's Campaign.
PLP MP Derrick Burgess has thrown his support behind London-born Mr Tweed and was prominent at the protest last week.
In 2007, while he was immigration minister, Mr Burgess made headlines for saying guest workers have no business meddling in the politics of their host country.
“I won't go into another country in this world and be negative about their country, regardless of what's happening there. I don't think it's the right thing to do,” he said at that time. “It's common sense. If I came into your house and I criticise your house, I think you may ask me to leave. And you would be right.”
Mr Burgess declined to comment when approached regarding his thoughts on Mr Tweed.
According to BIU president Chris Furbert, Mr Tweed must leave Bermuda by Thursday week.