Who can one turn to?
“As agreed with Minister of Economy and Labour in conjunction with our social partner, the Bermuda Industrial Union, for the purposes of calculating the hourly wage, it is to include in all instances the gratuities earned.”
Bermuda Hotel Association (advisory to members)
Three weeks ago, I wrote the following on this issue, which was published in this newspaper:
Jason Hayward recently passed legislation that represents one of the greatest sell-outs in the history of employment rights of workers in Bermuda by establishing a so-called “hybrid wage” structure that allows employers of persons earning gratuities to use them to dictate the wage of workers. This scheme lacks equity and allows for the continuation of a business model predicated on the payment of poverty-level wages in certain occupational categories within the hospitality industry.
How did this fly under the radar screen? Well, in a previous era, the Bermuda Industrial Union would have taken to the streets in opposition to something such as this. After all, it so beggars belief in terms of equity for our workers. Do not the gratuities belong to the workers? But the answer is that it flew under the radar because the same union signed on to it in the person of Chris Furbert. Think about that. Think also about the 85 per cent occupancy threshold that can trigger layoffs. Same union, same sign-off.
The hostage taker
Jason Hayward and Chris Furbert were not alone. In fact, none of this would have been engineered and legislated without the chief gaslighter, David Burt, setting it in motion on behalf of his new-found millionaire and billionaire friends in Tucker’s Town.
Within hours of the BHA document going public, my phone and WhatsApp were ringing off the hook. A good friend who wishes to remain anonymous sent me this after receiving the leaked document. He wrote:
“It gets them off the hook cause the employer has no contributions to gratuities and now with 85 per cent occupancy needed for full employment, the worker loses like never before. Gratuities should never have been a part of the minimum-wage agreement.”
But the provisions around “vacation leave” and “sick leave” are even more outrageous, as you will see. Having decided to employ an iniquitous model with respect to gratuities, what they do here will make the workers even worse off (see the accompanying BHA document sent in the name of a Progressive Labour Party member and former election candidate).
Then there was the spectacle of the government press conference last week to herald the sell-out of labour, in particular, with Mr Burt front and centre telling Black Bermudians that this minimum-wage framework was good for them .
What was really sad was the number of hostages known as ministers and MPs standing behind him. It included many former colleagues. That picture should be hung in a hall of shame. What won’t they do to stay on David’s reservation? And each of them has significant amounts of the Black working poor living in their constituencies.
It offers no comfort
What a sweet deal for the hospitality industry, facilitated by a Black-led union and Black-dominated government — with a nice, quiet assist from the opposition One Bermuda Alliance whose recent optimism about its prospects at the next General Election has been woefully misplaced.
As the architect of the statutory wage regime and the living-wage initiative at the legislative level, I am still shocked that Phil Barnett got selected to the Wage Commission. I expressed to the minister at the time that it was like bringing a wolf to the henhouse. Not a fox, but a wolf. Both Mr Barnett and the Austrian head of Buzz must be on cloud nine with this outcome, along with the Tucker’s Town-based oligarchs behind Gencom’s Westend Properties.
While I am tempted to say, “I told you so”, it offers no comfort whatsoever. Because the societal harm and rank exploitation of the most vulnerable workers in Bermuda will continue and even worsen now that it has been legislated and endorsed under law by a PLP government.
Through its silence, the OBA only confirms to us that the main political parties are not only in the same church, but are now jammed into the same pew sitting on top of one another.
We had a chance to make systemic and structural changes to our labour market as it relates to this employment sector, which could have also produced racial equity, but this government has refused to do so on behalf of the new oligarchs.
Can you live on $600 or less per week, Mr Hayward?
The employers and developers are the ones getting away with this within the hospitality industry, but do not be blind to these trends taking place increasingly in the construction and landscaping sectors of our economy through the use of low-cost foreign labour to drive down wages at the expense of Bermuda’s hard-pressed workers.
To share a secret
The BHA document speaks for itself. There is no need for me to hammer home the point, save for the following: that David Burt, Wayne Caines, Jason Hayward — let’s just call those two “the Belco twins” — and Chris Furbert signed on to this obvious sell-out.
If not for Zane DeSilva, it would be a lot worse, as he is the only one among the bunch who will ensure that Black firms and contractors get a piece of the action. Although I still contend this needs to be legislated, just as they legislated on behalf of the hospitality sector and Gencom’s Westend Properties getting the moon, the stars and the sun — Mr Burt didn’t even own the sun, yet he still gave it to them. While I do not believe political patronage should be the go-to model when it comes to these decisions around opportunity and racial equity, Mr DeSilva needs to be commended.
I am going to share a secret with you, the reader. In my experience with the PLP, Zane DeSilva is blacker in terms of consciousness and culture than at least two thirds of the government caucus I served in — then and now. And that includes David Burt, Wayne Caines and Jason Hayward. He is committed fearlessly to racial equity and justice, unlike the aforementioned.
In the month leading up to the 2017 General Election, I was the shadow minister for workforce development and labour with responsibility for the living wage. After the election, I was not chosen to sit in Cabinet. Now we know why.
But maybe this is the sign of the times. Few things demonstrate this more than this tainted deal, which leads me to conclude that after nearly 60 years we have reached the point of the great political and constitutional reset. Both parties are on board with this giveaway. (More to that point in my next op-ed.)
There was a distinct commitment to Bermuda before the 2017 election that the PLP was finally going to address the outstanding issues necessary to materially improve the lives of low-income Bermudians. Six years later, the living wage has not been delivered, in spite of Mr Hayward’s public pledge, and even my statutory wage regime has been perverted and corrupted to serve the interests of employers, developers and the new oligarchs — but not Black Bermudian workers. This is a betrayal like no other.
Black Bermudians need not apply
As to Steven Todd’s Bermuda Hotel Association, it seems that even this sector has a “Black Bermudians need not apply” sign — at least not if you want a decent wage that you could live on without having to live with your mum. Is this the Bermuda you want? It’s certainly the one all of the names mentioned are endorsing, whether intentional or not. And for some of them, it is intentional.
I make a commitment that this cannot and will not.
• Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage