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Hayward throws out redundancy relief net

Much anticipated changes to employment law will be tabled on Friday in the House of Assembly as a lifeline to businesses left reeling by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reprieve on redundancy payouts was announced last night by Jason Hayward, in his first public remarks since he was sworn in as Minister of Labour on June 4.

If approved by Parliament, the move will allow a break from the legal requirement for a layoff to become a termination after four months, something the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce has pleaded for to help keep businesses afloat.

Mr Hayward revealed that an amendment would go before the House for the Employment Act 2000 — landmark legislation brought by the Progressive Labour Party — to preserve benefits while keeping employers out of bankruptcy.

He said: “The change will exclude the period from 1 April to 30 June 2020 from the calculation of the period of four months, after which a layoff is deemed to be a termination for redundancy.

“The existing provisions of the Employment Act would then apply for severance pay for those employees not recalled at the end of the four-month period starting from 30th of June 2020.”

In the wake of the Chamber's call for help, David Burt, the Premier, had said the Government would not use the pandemic to “relax protections on workers”.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, also warned against tampering with the legislation at a June 3 press conference.

But Mr Hayward said the move marked a “balanced approach”, adding that “the concerns of the Bermuda Hotel Association have not been ignored”.

The BHA last month supported amending the Employment Act, as well as extending the unemployment benefits programme and health insurance relief, to prevent hotels from permanently closing doors.

Mr Hayward also offered stark figures showing the industries that had taken the brunt of job losses caused by shelter-in-place restrictions against the pandemic.

Restaurants were worst hit, with 1,815 people laid off, followed by hotels at 1,345.

Construction had 1,256 layoffs, with 991 in retail and 921 in the small-business sector.

As thousands return to their jobs, Mr Hayward said there had been reports to the Government of “inequitable employment practices”.

He said the Department of Labour Relations had taken 409 labour-related queries between March 30 and June 5.

Of those, Mr Hayward said only 14 related to “Bermudians being discriminated against — and those are under investigation”.

He noted that international business had emerged from Covid-19 restrictions as the most successful sector in keeping staff on the job.

Mr Hayward said he was “not sure how accurate” accounts were of large numbers of work permits being turned down by the Department of Immigration.

But he said he had requested any employers who wished to appeal permits getting denied to make their grievances known.

Mr Hayward added that he had requested the department's technical officers to monitor work-permit appeals.

The minister said “a balance needs to be struck” on the employment of local and expatriate workers.

He added: “The aim of the Ministry of Labour is to increase labour across the board. That's Bermudian workers and non-Bermudian workers.”

Mr Hayward said: “But as we talk about re-entering the world of work, what we want is more equitable treatment between the two groups.

“Where persons are not able to re-enter into previous jobs, the Department of Workforce Development will actively be engaged in a re-employment strategy.”

In rich company: Jason Hayward, flanked by David Burt, the Premier, and Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, makes his first appearance as Minister of Labour at last night's press conference, where he spoke about a reprieve on redundancy payouts (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published June 17, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated June 17, 2020 at 7:54 am)

Hayward throws out redundancy relief net

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