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Jobs vow taking ‘longer than anticipated’

Leah Scott

Halfway through its term in office, the One Bermuda Alliance’s election promise of creating 2,000 jobs in five years has proved a tough act to follow.

Although OBA backbencher Leah Scott characterised it as “a hopeful and optimistic promise”, she conceded that it was taking longer than Finance Minister Bob Richards may have expected.

However, she said that at the time “we had not yet, to use Bob’s phrase, ‘had a look under the hood’.”

“When we did get a look under the hood, we recognised there were quite a few things that we needed to correct and remedy in order to create an environment of confidence that would attract foreign direct investment.”

Ms Scott defended spending controls, debt reduction and “pro-growth economic policies to stimulate foreign investment and restore confidence in the economy”.

“We remain hopeful and optimistic, but the reality is that it is taking a longer time than both the Government and the people of Bermuda anticipated,” she said.

The Southampton East Central Member of Parliament said the mood within the OBA remained “generally optimistic” on the jobs front.

“We have seen positive economic growth,” she said. “We’ve seen some huge hires with the Hamilton Princess, 45 people at Pink Beach, and more than 200 Bermudians have been involved in the America’s Cup work to date at Dockyard, together with some 38 companies.”

She said the 2013-14 annual report of the National Training Board (NTB), debated in the House of Assembly last Friday, had highlighted “many positive employment indicators”.

That report showed 450 companies and 3,000 candidates registered and using the NTB’s online recruitment service, Ms Scott pointed out, while 735 Bermudians took training and development programmes here and overseas.

“The NTB has placed some 241 people in jobs over the period April 2014 to March 2015,” Ms Scott said.

“So clearly this Government is moving forward in its promise to create an environment that will promote economic and job success for Bermudians.”

Even so, surveys show Bermuda’s unemployment at record levels.

The latest Labour Force Survey suggested 3,486 people were out of work in 2014, while the most recent employment brief, issued last month, showed 800 jobs lost as of August 2014.

The Labour Force Survey was launched in 2009, at which point 1,700 people were found to be out of work — a considerable climb on the 1,000 people without jobs recorded by the 2000 Census.

As raised in the latest sitting of the House by Rolfe Commissiong of the Progressive Labour Party, some of the Island’s decline in the number of jobs extended back to earlier in the decade rather than being attributable to the recession of 2008: outsourcing and technological disruption played a role, he said.

“That may be part of why we are not seeing job growth as we had thought,” Mr Commissiong added.

The 2012 Labour Force Survey recorded 3,305 people unemployed in 2011, which dropped to 2,569 recorded for 2013 before surging back. Mr Commissiong agreed the Island’s present numbers could well be approaching the 4,000 mark — although actual survey details from the Department of Statistics will not be available for months yet.

Of particular concern was the broadening racial disparity in unemployment, Mr Commissiong said. “It shows that the unemployment level for black Bermudians was at 12 per cent, and four per cent for white Bermudians. That’s a major disparity. What was interesting to me as well is that most economists globally posit that anything below five per cent represents full employment.”

The racial dimension of Bermuda’s unemployment was acknowledged as “significant” this January by Mr Richards, when the Labour Force Survey showed that the number of black people in work in 2014 dropped by five per cent on the previous year, while the number of white people employed had risen by nearly six per cent from 2013.

Meanwhile, on June 25, the Bermuda job market employment briefs showed financial intermediation taking the hardest hit in last year’s job losses, when Bermudian jobs fell by 671 and jobs for non-Bermudians, excluding spouses of Bermudians and holders of Permanent Resident’s Certificates, declined by 122. Construction dropped below 2,000, its worst in 20 years — a drop that remains in effect, according to Construction Association of Bermuda head Charles Dunstan, who estimated last week that around 1,800 people were employed in that sector.

The report accompanying the employment briefs said business services, as well as the transport and communications sector, also represented significant casualties.

The latest numbers registered with the Department of Workforce Development were requested but were not provided by press time.

<p>Data collection criticised</p>

The Island’s metrics for tracking unemployment have been criticised as woefully outdated.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Statistics said the two main surveys were time-consuming to compile.

“The Employment Survey is a census of all business establishments that collects key characteristics of jobholders and reported vacancies,” he said. “In contrast, the Labour Force Survey is a sample household survey that gathers information on the profile of employed persons and persons who are not working.

“The data collection period is extensive for both as the process entails a number of steps, a few of which include following up with non-respondents, data entry and cross-checking the data for quality control.

“These steps are some of the factors that affect the timing of the Employment Briefs and the Labour Force Survey Report releases.”

The spokesman pointed out that preliminary results from the Employment Survey came out yearly in February’s National Economic Review.

Independent senator James Jardine told this newspaper that payroll tax submissions could be used to compile quarterly indicators of unemployment, but the spokesman maintained those reports still did not track numbers out of work.

“Payroll tax is charged under the authority of the Taxes Acts on every employer and self-employed person based on the remuneration paid, given or assessed by any employer or self-employed person to every employee or deemed employee that is liable for payroll tax under the Acts,” he said. “Unemployment data are sourced from population and housing censuses and the Labour Force Surveys.”