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Landscape firms vow to hire one local each

Bermuda Landscaping Association says its members will hire Bermudians who attended a job fair last week despite the fact that not one of the 130 applicants so far considered has any experience.

The newly-formed organisation, which represents 35 landscaping firms, said the absence of experienced candidates was disappointing but each company would aim to hire at least one local to “show good faith” in light of Government's moratorium on work permits.

Meanwhile, the Bermudian owner of a small landscaping firm told

The Royal Gazette her business was about to go bust as a direct result of the work permit ban.

The single mother-of-one, who says her parents will lose the family home if her company collapses, claims to have been unable to retain a single one of the 20 Bermudians she has hired for landscape work since 2008.

She said many stopped showing up after just a couple of days, two used drugs while at work and one young man found it difficult to travel to certain areas due to gang links.

The businesswoman, who asked not to be named, said she relied on seven foreign workers, from places such as the Philipines, Ecuador, Peru and Ethiopia, to fulfil the work she has managed to generate from clients during the recession.

But now she has had applications for work permit renewals for four of them turned down, in line with the Department of Immigration's extended work permit ban for certain trades.

The woman, 43, has appealed the decision but said if she loses, and they have to leave the Island next month, the lack of manpower will mean her company folds.

She took the business over in 2006 with the help of a bank loan, which she has since refinanced using her parents' property as collateral. “How am I going to pay it back?” she sobbed. “I'm going to be unemployed too. In four weeks, I may not have a company.

“I have gone to the bank already. I have basically told them there won't be a company.”

She said the four expatriates she could be about to lose are key employees who can supervise and train others.

“They can't be replaced by entry level people. There are qualified Bermudians but they are working for themselves in the most part. We advertise every three months. We had one application for our last ad.”

The woman added: “My story is not unique. I hope it can bring some enlightenment to our plight and make a difference.”

The work permit ban, which affects masons, carpenters and cleaners, as well as landscape gardeners, was imposed in August.

David Burch, Labour Minister at the time, admitted it was draconian but said it was necessary to ensure employers hired Bermudians in those fields.

It was extended for three months in February by Kim Wilson, the Minister now responsible for Labour.

The Bermuda Landscaping Association (BLA) formed as a result of the moratorium and held a job fair in conjunction with the Department of Labour and Training on March 10.

A BLA executive committee member, who also asked not be named, said the turnout was good and most of those attending were “pleasant young men”.

But she claimed the majority had never done landscaping before, many had the kind of criminal convictions which made them unsuitable for work with private clients and others balked at the idea of starting a minimum eight-hour shift at 7.30am each day.

Despite this, she said every member of the committee was “making an extreme, valued effort to hire at least one person”.

“We are looking at at least 35 of them possibly being hired. Some larger companies are looking to take two or three. For some, it's going to be a real sacrifice, but they are willing to show our good faith.”

Senator Wilson said yesterday: “The turnout at the landscaping job fair by more than 250 Bermudians indicates that there are a number of people who are willing to learn and grow in the field.

“Many of the employers have communicated a willingness to train Bermudians. Supervisors and foremen at the various companies are believed to be important resources in the training process.

“I look forward to the results of the job fair and to a partnership with the landscaping segment that will result in increased employment opportunities for Bermudian workers.”

Junior Finance Minister David Burt spoke about the work permit moratorium in the Senate on Wednesday.

He said the Island's recovery from the economic downturn would be “more sustainable and longer lasting when we restore balance to our local labour force”.

“As a government, we have an obligation to protect our local industries, and our citizens, from cheap labour imported by unscrupulously greedy employers,” he said.

Sen Burt, who was speaking during a general debate on the economy and not specifically about landscaping, said: “If you have a business model that relies solely on guest workers, your business model is not valid in today's Bermuda.

“It may have worked in the heyday of the last decade, but your company needs to reset the dial, to figure out how you can employ Bermudians and make your business work. As a people we cannot ignore the social problems that result from unemployment in our communities.”

He added: “This Government has started to lead by placing a moratorium on certain categories of work permits.

“It is my hope that eventually that moratorium will extend to other categories of workers to give the Government time to examine the issue, and listen to the Bermudians who have been displaced in these fields, and devise a new approach to controlling the amount of guest workers in our trades. It cannot continue to be open season.”

Useful website: www.immigration.gov.bm

Unemployed hopefuls fill out application forms at the Bermuda College during a Landscape Gardening companies Job Fair that was hosted by the Department of Labour and Training.
Landscaper's Log

A landscape company owner who claims her small business is about to go bust because of a work permit moratorium has kept a log of her local recruitment for the last three years.

The woman says she's found it hard to find experienced Bermudian landscapers and has struggled to keep those she has hired.

Of the 20 locals she has taken on for landscape work since 2008, several lasted just a couple of days, some had to be sacked for using drugs while at work and others simply stopped turning up.

Here we share some examples from the log with the employer's comments on each worker; to read her full list visit www.royalgazette.com.

l Worker A: lasted 1.5 days.

“Never returned after lunch the second day. Never heard from her until following week when she wanted to collect her pay.”

l Worker B: lasted one month

“Had issues with aggressive behaviour, particularly directed to foreign co-workers. Walked off job and did not return.”

l Worker C: lasted 3.5 months

“Good kid with challenging circumstances. Previous gang affiliation prevented him from working in all areas of Island, which we tried to schedule around. Had issues with reliability. Eventually stopped showing up with no notification.”

l Worker D: lasted three months

“Substance abuse issues. Found to have alcohol on breath one day after lunch. Given another chance but was later fired for lighting a crack pipe in company truck while working. The Department of Labour and Training have sent us his name twice since this [as a potential employee].”

l Worker E: lasted two days

“Stopped showing up and didn't call. Eventually contacted us to say he found employment elsewhere.”

l Worker F: lasted two days

“On probation. On phone nonstop, despite repeated supervisory protests. Even lit a spliff in truck his second day. Let go.”

l Worker G: lasted one week

“Was let go due to unsatisfactory performance. Spent all her time on phone and did not seem to want to work. When let go she threatened to burn the place up.”

l Worker H: lasted one month

“Fired for lewd and unprofessional conduct on customer property. Also came to light after the fact that coworkers witnessed him stealing items from grocery stores and gas stations.”

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Published March 18, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated March 18, 2011 at 10:19 am)

Landscape firms vow to hire one local each

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