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Report: Bermuda employers not optimistic about economy

Less than a week after the Bermuda Government’s Department of Statistics released its latest unemployment figures, business leaders on the Island are making a call to action, saying the government needs to make changes to create a more “business friendly” Bermuda.

The Government’s report revealed 698 jobs were lost last year and 691 of them were positions held by expatriates. On the same day we reported on those figures, this newspaper also reported that Saltus Grammar School had cut five positions, citing a drop in enrolment numbers due to expats leaving the Island as the reason.

Now, in an exclusive to The Royal Gazette, The Bermuda Employers’ Council (BEC) has released the results of a survey that finds the vast majority of employers in Bermuda are not at all optimistic about the economy. The survey found 71 percent of its members believe the recession will go on into 2013 or 2014.

The BEC is Bermuda’s largest employer organisation dealing with trade union and human resource matters. Keith Jensen, the organisation’s President said the majority of their members are pessimistic about recovery and are hesitant to invest and hire in Bermuda, “Almost 60 percent of our members see the economy becoming somewhat or much worse with the remainder believing it will be about the same as a year ago. Consequently, conditions for making major capital investments, which helps to drive employment, are somewhat worse or much worse than a year ago.”

Two out of the top four concerns for businesses, the survey found, are immigration-related issues: keeping people employed, keeping/attracting business to the Island, work permits and immigration policies.

Mr Jensen said a majority of BEC members in the survey suggested changes to work permit and immigration policies and the relaxation of term limits were priority matters that Government should address. Other changes they said they would like to see the Government make included ensuring friendlier business climate, (i.e. attracting and keeping business in Bermuda), lowering taxes and cutting Government spending.

The concerns of BEC members and the changes called for are echoed by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, Construction Association of Bermuda and leaders of the opposition party.

“This is a very interesting survey that not only serves to highlight what we, at the Chamber, have been seeing and commenting on for some time,” said Diane Newman, co-chair of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce’s Economics Advisory Committee. “Certainly, the latest Government Employment Report released this week, underlines the situation we have here with large numbers of jobs leaving the Island and, as a result, fewer local jobs in the economy.

“The latest employment survey underlines the correlation between work permits and local jobs. For every five work permits lost, one job in Bermuda ceases to exist, so for every 500 guest worker jobs that are lost, translates into 100 local jobs lost. Expatriates create jobs for Bermudians, they don’t take jobs from Bermudians.”

Ms Newman says Bermuda needs to take immediate steps to “regrow” the international business sector and attract more foreign job creators. “We understand that since 2008, insurance and reinsurance has grown around the world, but shrunk in Bermuda,” she said.

“Government needs to embark on immigration reforms by abolishing term limits on work permits, streamlining the immigration process and adopting policies that tie expatriate workers to the island for the long term.

“Similarly, it could reduce the costs of employing skilled foreign workers for local businesses by doing away with term limits, which simply result in employers having to ‘churn’ workers, bringing in new expats to replace departing ones.”

“Treating immigration as a political tool, by making international business feel uncomfortable here, has caused, and continues to cause that sector of the economy to shrink,” said Shadow Finance Minister, Bob Richards

“When international business downsizes or leaves Bermuda, it reduces the number of Bermudian jobs, both directly and indirectly. Over 60 percent of jobs in the international insurance sector are held by Bermudians. In addition, non-Bermudians working in international business are heavy consumers of goods and services in Bermuda. To put it bluntly, when they leave and stop buying here, Bermudians are thrown out of work.”

Hardest hit by lob losses last year was the construction industry, which saw 493 jobs cut. It’s the second year in a row jobs in the sector have declined by 400 or more jobs, a total loss of 1,100 jobs or 30 percent of the construction workforce since its peak in 2008. The BEC’s survey finds demand for employees remains weak in construction and the also hard-hit retail, hotel and restaurant industries.

“The fact that construction is one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy is not a surprise given what is going on in the community, which is why construction is generally considered a leading indicator of the economy,” said Charles Dunstan, president of the Construction Association of Bermuda.

Mr Dunstan said there’s a trickle-down effect when guest workers lose their jobs, one that is reflected in the construction industry.

“The largest loss over the past three years has been guest workers. This loss represents less rents to Bermudian landlords, less business for restaurants, less tax revenue, and less money in the local economy generally,” Mr Dunstan said. “The specific effect on construction is less investment by homeowners, government and businesses in property development, i.e. less construction. Maintaining and growing our international business sector is key to this investment.”

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Published April 23, 2012 at 9:29 am (Updated April 23, 2012 at 9:28 am)

Report: Bermuda employers not optimistic about economy

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