Construction Association’s president calls BIU’s stance on retraining ‘refreshing’
The Bermuda Industrial Union has won praise from the Construction Association of Bermuda for taking the lead in preparing local workers for the rebound in the economy.
Reflecting on Thursday’s construction division meeting at the BIU, CAOB President Charles Dunstan told
The Royal Gazette that the BIU’s message to local construction workers that they should be using the economic downturn to upgrade their skills “and position themselves to take advantage of a rebound in the economy” is a “refreshing public focus”.
“They are looking for constructive solutions, rather than simply pointing fingers and looking to apportion blame,” Mr Dunstan said.
“George Scott [BIU organiser] should be commended for leading this effort. His focus (Thursday) night, at times in the heat of negative commentary, was on looking for constructive pathways to change people’s direction and their mindset.”
Mr Dunstan said the meeting and its outcome were “generally constructive”.
“Yes, there were some impassioned expressions of frustration, understandably, but these came from both sides. At one point, a ‘request’ was levelled at employers that they should use union wage guidelines for their employee wage structures.
“The complaint was that some in the industry are paying wages equivalent to those of ten years ago.
“The rebuttal to this was: we as contractors are often forced to bid at those same levels, driven by market forces outside of our control, just to get some work to keep our businesses moving, and at least some of our people employed.
“So, the effective stagnation of wages hits us all, right across the industry, and is not confined to those in the field.
“This is not some form of sinister control mechanism being imposed on Bermudian tradesmen, it is a reality of the industry.”
Mr Dunstan noted that, unlike other industries, construction has no governing body which requires certification and only a few trades have certification requirements.
“But a good plumber is no less important to our economic engine than the lawyer who lives next door.
“So we’re trying to say, be the best plumber you can possibly be, and get certified to prove it,” he said.
“If you want to reduce Bermuda’s reliance on overseas labour this is the best way to go about it.”
The approximately 40 people who attended Thursday’s meeting heard from the CAOB that those who want to seek certification can do so by registering with the National Training Board which will assess them and find appropriate courses, either at the Bermuda College or overseas, to fill in any gaps in their knowledge.
“The NTB will even sponsor a candidate for the duration of the course, but yet the programme is grossly underutilised.
“We seem to have become conditioned to look for the sinister ulterior motive behind programs such as this,” said Mr Dunstan.
Mr Dunstan said that one certified tradesman told the meeting that requiring certification was, in his view, a way of holding back Bermudians in favour of foreign workers.
“Part of his argument was that the process of certification and keeping up your qualifications would be too hard for many, who would just give up, leaving the door open to foreigners.
“When confronted with that kind of reverse logic, we have to hold up our hands and realise that we probably can’t help everyone,” he said.
“On the other hand, there were those who stood and called on their peers to accept responsibility for themselves, to catch up with the times, and raise their level of ability, as required by the industry.
“So, for every person who is encumbered by their frustration, there are those who are refusing to be held back by perceived obstacles that may not even exist, and rise to the challenge of an ever-changing economy.”
Mr Dunstan said the meeting ended with a feeling of optimism and networking.
“George Scott culminated the meeting on a high note when he pointed out that trade certifications are globally portable,” he said.
“If Brazil is investing in building a million homes for their lower end population, there is no reason why Bermudian tradesmen shouldn’t be in a position to take advantage of this opportunity.
“The feeling of optimism from remarks such as this was palpable in the room. Bermudians have a history of adapting to their economic situation, even taking to the high seas to explore opportunities in neighbouring jurisdictions, and often commanding the scene when they get there.”
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