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Mom slams Parks for intern’s ‘pipe dream’

The House of Assembly

An angry mother has accused the Department of Parks of exploiting young volunteers’ desperation to find employment, and failing to pay its salaried workers on time.

The mother, who did not wish to be named, said that her son joined the Department’s Skills Development Training Programme in spring 2015 to learn about horticulture and the landscaping trade.

He worked unpaid for four months alongside other 19- to 25-year-olds, hoping to ultimately land a full-time job, then segued into a summertime Parks initiative in which he earned roughly $500 a week.

“Employees’ pay is supposed to come on Friday afternoon, but there was always some problem,” she said. “These young people work and they don’t know when their pay cheque is coming — it can take three weeks.”

When the son’s summer work schedule ended, he was called into a meeting with officials from the Department of Parks.

“He went to the meeting happy, thinking they might offer him a job,” the mother said.

“Instead they announced that they were revamping the training programme for spring 2016, and they wanted him to come back as a volunteer and start all over again. He was upset.”

Four of the other participants did receive full-time employment, the Government announced, while 16 more landed part-time jobs.

Nonetheless, the son returned in spring this year for four more months of unpaid work — buoyed by the fact that, in March, the Bermuda Government began advertising for four more jobs within the Department of Parks.

“The programme’s participants were told that the majority of these hires would come from their group. A couple of guys were pretty much told that they were getting jobs,” the mother said.

“That’s why my son stuck with it, because he really thought he might get one of those jobs which, as far as I know, have still not been filled.”

A fortnight ago, the Department of Parks offered the son — who graduated from the programme in June with nine other men — more short-term employment on a weekly salary.

However, after completing two weeks of work, problems have arisen with pay once more.

“The way these young men are being treated leaves a lot to be desired,” the mother said.

“Yesterday, one of the guys who was previously involved in the programme said that the Government is selling them pipe dreams, and everybody feels like they’re just being used for labour.”

The mother, whose son is now working to build up his own business, said that the youth of Bermuda were living in “delicate times”.

“You’re talking about a young man involved with a Government agency for 18 months now, constantly being told he’s doing a good job and he’s going somewhere, and then the rewards don’t come — not even the ones he has worked for,” she said.

“The Government needs to be really careful; it should be giving young people chances and opportunities, not disillusionment and discouragement.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of the Environment said that the programme, which launched three years ago, existed primarily as “invaluable” vocational training, and that it did not promise specific jobs to participants.

She added that the income received by graduates for short-term work undertaken was a “generous donation” arranged by the programme’s facilitators.

“The Government has strict guidelines for payments, and because the volunteers are not employees or a business, the administrative process to pay them was complex and lengthy,” the spokeswoman said.

“The generous donation has now been processed and the applicable graduates have received their first payment, with more to follow.”

The spokeswoman added that the programme was “more than learning to cut grass and trim hedges; it is hard-hitting instruction on life”.

“The facilitators are 110 per cent committed to the group, and have spent countless hours of their personal time to ensure that the participants receive a well-rounded experience that they will unlikely find elsewhere,” she said.