Log In

Reset Password

Minimum wage would mean more jobs for Bermudians

The number of recipients of financial assistance has mushroomed from 679 in 2006 to 2,679 in 2016 which amounts to a 400 per cent increase in ten years.

There has also been a significant shift in the demographic of this population. While seniors used to make up by far the largest portion of the recipients, by 2016 the able-bodied unemployed coupled with the low-income earners have climbed to nearly equal the number of seniors (969 seniors and 862 able-bodied). Indeed this category now exceeds the number of disabled recipients, who number 848.

This trend is disturbing to say the least. It is most likely a result of both the Bermudian jobs that have been lost (the unemployed) and the continued practice in many sectors to pay wages as low a $7 per hour (the hospitality industry).

The 2013 Bermuda Employment Survey recorded that 22,540 job holders who worked full time earned $21,000 a year or less. Indeed of the total population, 20 per cent earned $42,000 or less. One can assume that the situation is considerably worse than that now — especially with the loss of 3,696 Bermudian jobs.

This trend is not sustainable as what appears to be happening here is that the Government is subsidising the business sector by allowing them to continue to pay poverty-level wages while topping up the incomes to a level sufficient to survive. In essence using public money to allow these firms to continue to be profitable.

The argument that the establishment of a minimum wage would result in even more layoffs of Bermudians is based on no hard evidence. The experience in other democratic jurisdictions (all of whom, by the way, have a legislated minimum wage) has not resulted in job losses.

Indeed, in Bermuda such a move would actually result in a very definite increase in Bermudian jobs. How? Because a minimum wage of say even $20 per hour would immediately make it completely impractical to bring in foreign workers for the many unskilled or semi-skilled workers that currently hold jobs that Bermudians could do.

With the incentive removed to import cheap labour, scores of jobs in restaurants, bars, hotels, cleaning companies, landscape companies and the like would open up and be available to Bermudians.

Additionally the able-bodied, low-income earners and unemployed would no longer be a drain on the public purse to the tune of what is currently almost a million dollars a month ($918,000) for this category alone.

In the Huffington Post Sean McElwee wrote: “We must ask ourselves do we want to live in a society where 20 per cent of the people cannot afford to purchase the basic necessities for their children. Or put differently should a business that chooses not to pay its workers enough to survive be allowed to exist and prosper?”

We are seeing stark evidence of a growing impatience of the continuing and increasing economic inequity and the widening income gap. The price we are paying for the absence of a minimum wage goes far beyond the cost of financial assistance and the resulting government debt.

Indeed the social and emotional cost to those who feel marginalised and disconnected from mainstream opportunities and the ability to support their families with dignity will continue to foster the levels of violence and unrest that plagues our beautiful island.

Sheelagh Cooper is the chairwoman of the Coalition for the Protection of Children