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Roban: OBA’s jobs plan not working

Shadow Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban challenged Government to explain why nearly 250 work permits were granted for foreign tradesmen while Bermudian construction workers remain out of work.

Ten months into the new One Bermuda Alliance Government Mr Roban asserted recent initiatives have not amounted to any serious change in the job situation for unemployed Bermudians.

“They made some very dramatic steps as it relates to the elimination of the term limits and other measures to stop the tide of company flight and job losses.

“Here we are a year later with no significant job increases and the data they have provided is doubtful.”

In figures released during a response to Parliamentary questions, Minister Michael Dunkley, spokesman for Home Affairs in the House, disclosed that work permits were granted for 164 masons, 30 plumbers and 55 carpenters as of September.

Bermudians registered as unemployed in those categories stood at 33 masons, 14 carpenters and nine plumbers.

Of the 164 permits granted for masons, 50 were approved prior to January, as was the case for 17 of the 30 plumbers and 23 of the 55 permits for carpenters.

A dramatic increase in the number of work permits in an industry plagued by unemployment presents clear evidence the new policies are not working for Bermudians in his view.

“They have not given the attention to the serious labour situation around Bermudians as they promised they would,” Mr Roban said. “This is evidence of policy action that is not helping Bermudians get jobs but it's still facilitating non-Bermudians with jobs in categories that we know there's lots of Bermudians out of work.

“We're just supposed to accept the rhetoric from business interest groups that they want Bermudians to avoid the cost of permits? But it's clearly not the practice. What they say does not equate with the practice,” Mr Roban said.

He added: “The statements from Government that it is committed to maximising Bermudian employment in this climate comes up short — severely short.

“The practice means they will often go out of their way to invest in the permit for an employee they can potentially pay less.

“This shows they are clearly allowing companies to make applications with no real higher standards. And I'm not blaming the non-Bermudians for this. I am blaming the Government and by extension, the applicants. Whatever they have been doing since January is not working.”

In the grassroots community he said, the tension due to unemployment is as “thick as cassava pie at Christmas time”.

“My people are seeing their brothers and sisters, cousins and uncles who are out there wanting work, not finding work,” Mr Roban explained. “And then they see non-Bermudians in certain types of jobs still here while their family members are looking for work.”

Mr Roban said Bermudian families are “frustrate when they themselves and those family members who are unemployed” fill out applications “and get no response”.

“Or they get the classic form letter,” he said, “while still seeing others on permits stay employed and they're not happy with that.”

Mr Roban said to working Bermudians “it seems like the Government is moving hell and high water to make certain people feel comfortable while Bermudians are waiting for something to happen for them”.

He added: “I'm not sure how this will play out if it continues. I wonder when the pin is going to drop when their frustrations truly boil over and what will manifest from that.”

And he lamented the spin off effects of financial strain in the home due to economic hardship which heightens anxiety, suggesting abuse of family members could increase, behavioural and emotional problems could ensue for children inhibit learning if they sense such stress.

Mr Roban explained: “It puts burdens on families like grand mothers and grand fathers who have retired who may then have to support their children who are out of work. It creates anxiety and frustrations across the board in our community.

“This has all the makings of building further anxiety and frustration in the community that could lead to social upheaval.”

A Ministry spokesperson said a high percentage of the work permits approved prior to January were “approved by the former administration” and “it should be clear that the numbers tell only part of the story as it relates to recruitment and job placement”.

The spokesperson explained that while the Department of Immigration can refuse a work permit, the Department cannot instruct the employer to hire any specific individual.

As of September 2013, there were 164 masons on work permits, 30 plumbers and 55 carpenters with 50, 17 and 23 of them here on work permits approved before January 2013.

The spokesperson insisted “processes are in place to ensure that we are providing opportunities for Bermudians” and the Department of Workforce Development works closely with Immigration to “ensure that unemployed persons are matched with employment opportunities as they arise”.

Under new rules instituted this year, all qualified people who are registered as unemployed with Workforce Development must be considered for a job before a work permit application be considered.

Once submitted, there is a consultation process between the two departments, before it goes before the Board.

Employers must declare to Government the names and contact information of all Bermudians who apply for jobs.

The spokesperson concluded: “Failure to disclose any information as a part of this process and or providing false information is an offence subject to penalty.”

Shadow Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban

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Published October 26, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 25, 2013 at 11:34 pm)

Roban: OBA’s jobs plan not working

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