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Hayward: Tackle our economic ills

Labour Day Banquet: Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert (left) and key speaker Jason Hayward, the president of Bermuda Public Services Union (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Island needs a vision that “must include getting Bermudians back to work”, Jason Hayward, the president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, said last night.

Speaking at the Bermuda Industrial Union's 34th Annual Labour Day Banquet, Mr Hayward said on-the-job training, investing more money into postsecondary education and fixing problems in the existing education system would solve the Island's unemployment issue.

While he acknowledged “the critical need for guest workers” in his speech on the theme 'Leading by Example', he said they should not be replacing qualified Bermudians.

Mr Hayward also urged the black community to rise together to tackle social and economic ills, mirroring a functional unity he said the white community has exhibited to its own benefit for hundreds of years.

The president's talk built on the speech given last year by Ewart Brown, who called for an all-out campaign by the Opposition, the unions, the People's Campaign and other community organisations to unite and reclaim the Government.

“The functional unity that Dr Brown called for did not occur maybe because the vision was too shallow,” said Mr Hayward at the banquet held at The Fairmont Southampton. “Functional unity must transcend political power: it needs to include organisations working together to uplift the social and economic conditions of all in the country.”

Mr Hayward outlined his vision for Bermuda, which he said “surpasses party politics”, “truly seeks to improve the social and economic conditions for those on the bottom half of society”, and “truly aims for a better Bermuda”.

He said the “vision must include getting Bermudians back to work”.

According to the preliminary report of the Labour Force Survey carried out by the Bermuda Government, released last month, 2,502 people were unemployed in 2015, with Bermudians making up 2,278 of the total.

“What we have is structural unemployment,” Mr Hayward said, adding that this unemployment stems from a mismatch between skills and qualifications that employers demand and those that workers possess.

“Either we are producing Bermudians that don't have the skill sets for the job market or employers are discriminating against our people. Either way, these problems need to be fixed.

“Through education, training and creating access to jobs, we can solve our unemployment issue.”

Mr Hayward said the Island “must commit to investing in education and job training of our citizens” because this “will undoubtedly benefit individuals and Bermuda at large”.

He called on Government to provide adequate funding for postsecondary education and to correct the problems associated with administration, finance, curriculum and quality of delivery in the existing education system.

Mr Hayward said “on-the-job training must also be embraced” and that businesses must commit “to apprenticeship programmes, professional development and workplace shadowing” because this would enable Bermudians to acquire the skill sets not gained through formal education.

He said he had been pleased to see the development of a National Training Plan, but was disappointed that there was no implementation strategy.

“OBA, you promised the jobs. Now it is time for you to deliver,” he said. “We are tired of broken promises.”

Mr Hayward said Government must also commit to reducing barriers that exist for individuals accessing jobs and urged Government to address reported discriminatory practices by employers against Bermudians.

“For far too long, employers have been allowed to get away with setting rigorous qualifications and tests primarily to discourage Bermudians. Some employers show a complete bias towards guest workers over Bermudians.”

Mr Hayward said this needs to stop and questioned what message is being sent to students, who obtain their qualifications abroad only to return home “and all they find is shut doors”.

“I realise the critical need for guest workers in society, but our expatriate brothers and sisters should not be displacing qualified and abled Bermudians. Their service should only be utilised when there is a job demand that cannot be filled by a qualified Bermudian.”

Mr Hayward said a vision is also needed that “forces structural change which seeks to reduce income inequality in Bermuda”.

He said Bermuda is divided by race, and pointed to black unemployment being higher than white unemployment and the medium income for whites being higher, while the vast majority of people on financial assistance and in jails are black.

He added that blacks are losing their homes to the banks and their men to the streets, are struggling to survive upon retirement and are the poor and working class in Bermuda.

“It is a flawed way of thinking to believe that the social ills and economic deterioration of the black community is not a problem for all,” Mr Hayward said.

“It is equally flawed for the black community to continuously rely on others to elevate us from our current position; these are our problems and we must take the bull by the horns to collectively address them as a community.

“We must take active steps to better ourselves.”

Mr Hayward said these steps include supporting unions and community clubs, developing financial institutions, developing and supporting black businesses, investing in co-operatives and the education of “our children and our people”, strengthening families, revitalising spirituality and “stop being our own worst enemy”.

He said the “white community in Bermuda has exhibited functional unity for centuries” and added that “we need to take note of what has been done in the white community and we need to empower ourselves.

“We have the capacity to do better, we must do better and we shouldn't settle for anything less.”

“We should not just sit back and be satisfied with mediocre leadership; we must demand that our leaders operate at a standard of excellence.

“Many in the country are dissatisfied with the leadership of this country,” he said. “I am personally dissatisfied with the leadership of this country.

“The OBA rule with an iron fist with no regard for the people of this country. Their business-driven agenda is distracting them from their principle purpose, which is to serve the people.”

“The leadership of this country has been no friend to labour — their attacks on the trade unions and trade union leadership are unprecedented, but it seems to go unchecked. It seems as though the Premier is not the captain of his ship. When was the last time the Premier of this country stood up and spoke on an important issue?”

Mr Hayward also claimed finance minister Bob Richards is "wasting time and money" with his ongoing defamation case.

Yesterday, Mr Richards revealed he would not be asking the Bermuda Government to pay for his court costs over the matter, which surrounds comments made in a television broadcast by Mr Hayward.

Last night, Mr Hayward likened the dispute to the David and Goliath battle, adding that many do not realise that story ended with David cutting off Goliath's head and becoming King.

He said: "Minister Bob Richards, let's cut the foolishness. What we are doing is wasting time and money. You don't like something I said, so you're taking me to court."

He added that Mr Richards reminds him of the bully on the playground, who ends up picking on the wrong person and goes home with his front teeth in his pocket.

He called for members to continue fighting “for what we believe in”, to advocate for equality, jobs and justice, to be a voice for those who are not prepared to speak for themselves, to protest when needed, to support freedom of speech and assembly, and “to continue to work together to achieve a better Bermuda”.