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Dismont fears living wage not enough

Backing plan: Martha Dismont of Family Centre is cautiously optimistic (Photograph by Akil Simmons).

Plans for a living wage are “an important step in the right direction”, but this alone will not halt the growing number of Bermudians who fail to make ends meet, it was claimed yesterday.

Martha Dismont, executive director at Family Centre, praised the efforts of the Government to bring about a statutory pay scheme, but emphasised it had to be part of a series of changes.

One single mother of two children warned yesterday that the suggested living wage of more than $18 an hour would still not be enough to cover costs.

A report by a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee, tabled last month by chairman Rolfe Commissiong, a government backbencher, highlighted the struggles faced by some families.

The report said some hospitality staff earned between $5 and $7.50 per hour, and “low-skilled workers” were paid less than $8 an hour.

The report added the cost of living in Bermuda was 98 per cent higher than the United States and recommended the introduction of a living wage in an attempt to ensure workers can afford food, housing, clothes, medical care, education for their children and transport.

Ms Dismont said: “Much credit should be given to Rolfe Commissiong, and the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee for their efforts in recommending the implementation of a living wage.

“We know of cases where wage earners are paid between $7 and $8 per hour, and unless they receive significant gratuities, these wages do not support even half of their household expenditure.

“In one case, a wage earner worked 40 hours per week and took home $350 per week, making it impossible to pay his rent.

“In another case, a wage earner took up a second job to supplement his wage and, as an entrepreneur, he paid his workers more in his small business, to retain the workers, than he made working for someone else.”

She added: “We are aware of multiple families supplementing wages with more than one job to ensure that there is enough income to support basic needs. This leads to the lack of quality time in the home by parents. These conditions perpetuate unintended home dysfunction.”

Ms Dismont said the cost of living had been a concern for lower wage earners “for a very long time”.

She added a Department of Statistics study in 2008 identified at least 11 per cent of the population living below the “poverty line”, with many of these homes made up of a single parent and one child.

She said: “Implementing an appropriate living wage will clearly aid low-income wage earners. However, I am certain that the Joint Select Committee is aware that if Bermuda does not address the high cost of living, including spiralling healthcare costs, the living wage will not have the uplifting sustainable impact that is intended.”

Ms Dismont said a Low Income Thresholds study in 2008 said the main purpose of a recommended low-income threshold methodology was to “steer the Government in helping persons and families who are economically disadvantaged, by continuing its fiscal effort to impact the wellbeing of every Bermudian”.

She added a living wage was “an important step in the right direction, but to address the increasing numbers of families falling below our current low income threshold, a combination of actions must take place”.

The JSC report also supported other policies under consideration such as tax reform to move the burden from low-income earners to the better-off and moves to cut the cost of living.

It said that from May next year, a minimum wage of $12.25 per hour should be introduced and that by 2021, a living wage should be implemented at an amount still to be set, but estimated to be about $18.23 per hour.

However, the single mother said she was paid more than that for about 60 hours a week and was still “drowning”.

The 31-year-old said she earned income from two jobs, but much of it went towards living costs and nursery fees.

She added one job paid $20 an hour and the other about $29.

The woman said a typical day started at 6am before she went on to her full-time post from 8am to 4pm.

She added she often worked from 9.30pm until 3.30am, which meant she was home for just two hours before her routine started again.

She said: “I’m a single parent, I’m working day and night and I’m not seeing my children. Nursery fees are killing me. I can only imagine what these people making $12 an hour are taking home.”

The woman added the family lived in a “really little” apartment which she feared was unsafe because of a need for renovations.

She said: “I live from paycheque to paycheque. I’m paid every week and every week my money is allocated to something.”

The woman added: “My bills run into each other, every month I have to decide which bill is more important and I rotate them.”

She added she got some assistance from charities, but that the constant struggle to make ends meet had affected her health.

The woman predicted the living wage rates proposed in the report would not be enough for many Bermudian parents.

She said: “With the cost of living, I think that’s utterly ridiculous. Look at how much I make per hour and I’m dying, I’m not even staying afloat.

“Maybe where people are still living at home or don’t have responsibilities, that might be acceptable, but for someone who has all their own responsibilities, that’s ridiculous; you can’t survive.”