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Early retirement plan exaggerates job loss numbers

Signs of success: the America’s Cup project, including the development at the South Basin, above, is generating economic activity (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Jeff Sousa

The latest employment statistics, which showed continuing Bermudian job losses in 2015, sound like evidence of a setback to One Bermuda Alliance efforts to revitalise our economy. But they are not at all.

Look a little closer: first, the statistics refer to 2015, not to this year ... not 2016. We all know in our hearts that things are at least a little different today as a result of new and continuing economic activity, although we will not have the updated Statistical Employment Brief to confirm it until halfway through 2017.

The losses for 2015 were small — 156 when you add up all categories, but 257 Bermudian job losses contributed to that figure. Jobs lost were mainly in the public administration sector, which lost a total of 237 jobs.

Those jobs belonged, as the statistics department’s report acknowledges, to people who have now retired voluntarily from the public service under the Government’s early retirement programme. In a sense, they should not be counted as jobs lost at all.

We have to remember that the Government has been working hard to cut costs in the public service, as it works to eliminate the deficit it inherited in 2012. We also have to look at the figures for 2015 against the background of what went before, if we want to understand accurately what is happening with jobs.

Job losses have slowed to a relative crawl since the OBA took over the Government.

The peak year for the total number of jobs in Bermuda — Bermudians and non-Bermudians — was 2008, when there were slightly more than 40,000 jobs. Between 2008 and 2012, some 4,770 jobs were lost, a decline from 40,000 jobs to a little more than 35,400.

The peak year for jobs held by Bermudians was 2000, when there were 28,881 in the workforce. From 2000 to 2012, there was an almost uninterrupted record of decline in Bermudian jobs every year.

In the 2011-12 period, more than 1,050 Bermudians lost jobs. In the next year, 2012-13, we went down to a loss of 628. In 2013-14, losses totalled 671. And in 2014-15, we learnt a few days ago, the losses for Bermudians were down to 257.

Fair-minded people will call that something like success, especially in the light of the work that the Government has been doing to turn around the economy.

No one can say for sure that things are different now, but given what has been happening in Bermuda this year, it’s a good bet, isn’t it?

Think of what’s going on around us: the America’s Cup project is generating enormous economic activity, especially in Dockyard. New hotels are being developed and old hotels are being renewed, which means hotel owners have regained their confidence in the island. Tourist arrival figures are up ... modestly, maybe, but with the promise of more to come.

Bermuda’s gross domestic product, and therefore the economy, grew 3.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year. Retail sales in April of this year increased 2.3 per cent above what was recorded in June 2015. You have to remember that when retail sales increase, so do jobs.

Building material retailers registered the largest gain in sales receipts of 15.1 per cent, and real estate sales are up. Those things mean more construction jobs. Container import volumes are up. Consumers are buying again. People are starting to have faith again in our economic future.

I know some people are saying that an increase in jobs for foreigners experienced at the same time as there have been losses of Bermudian jobs is unacceptable in our economy at this still difficult time. But I would ask people to look a little deeper than simply at the surface.

We believe the majority of the Bermudian job losses are the effect of the Government’s early retirement plan for the public service. And the new guest workers are a sure sign of the successful rebuilding of the economy, in that they are replacements for some of the thousands of foreign workers who left our shores during the troubled economic times of the past few years.

It is obvious to me that Bermuda’s economic revitalisation is in full swing. Is it possible that all this good news may lift employment in Bermuda in 2016 out of the red and into the black? Bet on it.

Jeff Sousa is a government backbencher and the MP for Warwick West (Constituency 28)