Human rights a battle that never ends
Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities”. The Human Rights Act as enshrined in law prohibits employment discrimination, among other types of discrimination, on the basis of any protected category, which includes race, place of origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation as well as other characteristics.
Having employment is important. Having the ability to get a job, to be in that job, to retain that job without the fear of being discriminated against is equally important. Just as we would not want to stay where we aren’t wanted in social settings, the same, and more, can be said of the job setting. More so, as we spend the majority of our time in that space. The idea that the Bermudian job market is not a place for Bermudians is a concept believed and lived by too many of us.
This is a hot topic for Bermuda, especially in recent years and including during the pandemic with all its unique challenges. Bermuda, much like the rest of the world, went through unprecedented volatility in the job market during Covid, which affected both Bermudians and expatriates. However, the uniqueness of our situation meant that Bermudians suffered the brunt of this downturn.
We hold the majority of the jobs in the sectors most hit by the lockdowns, but even before that there had long been calls that the job market, at all levels, was unfairly tilted towards three main categories — expatriate, White Bermudians and, after both of those, Black females. Black males unfortunately come last on this list. This is backed up by information periodically provided by the Government and anecdotally.
All too often on Bermuda’s social-media sites, there are people complaining about being unfairly discriminated against when it comes to getting a job and keeping that job, as well as even just being interviewed for that job. Many a post points out employment advertisements with requirements they believe are obviously geared away from the average Bermudian. We all hear the horror stories, and many have examples of their own to share. Unfortunately, we are hearing more and more people claim that reporting to the Human Rights Commission is fruitless, so why bother?
The Human Rights Act does provide for the ability to file a complaint for perceived discrimination to the HRC, at which time an investigation may be launched if the complaint is deemed to be valid. However, this can be an onerous process, given that, in addition to tackling complaints, the HRC has so much on its plate as the responsible body to oversee all aspects of human rights, including educational and informational tasks for the general public’s understanding of their rights.
Our proposed amendment to the law offers solutions to combat unfair employment practices. The Equality Act 2021 seeks to offer extended recourse to combat this. It seeks to provide a presumption of equality in our laws and introduces fines for employers where pay is unequal. It seeks to create an Equality Council at the HRC to better promote equality and training in the workplace, and it expands its remit by giving the Employment Tribunal the power to hear discrimination claims. In addition, the Bill also proposes equality of representation on government boards and quangos.
It seeks to give dignity to Bermudians by giving us back the faith that our voice is heard when we report job-related discrimination. In the end, it strives to level a playing field that has too long put parts of the population above others. The right to employment free from any discriminatory practices is a fundamental necessity to help give each of us the chance to survive and prosper in our island home.
• Tia Smith is a One Bermuda Alliance election candidate for St George’s North (Constituency 1)