Dickinson: public-sector plan will save jobs
Public-sector workers were told yesterday that a financial plan to help tackle the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will save jobs.
Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, outlined the problems faced by the Government in an open letter to civil servants and said that unions were setting up meetings with their members to discuss the proposal to save cash.
He explained: “Our objective is to retain jobs, strengthen our economy, and get Bermudians in all sectors back to work.
“That's why we've been working hard with our union partners on a package of savings to avoid layoffs and balance the budget.
“The savings package is perhaps tougher than the unions had envisaged — however, I am satisfied that this is the best deal we can achieve; one which saves jobs, creates room for us to continue delivering much needed services to our people and positions us to lead Bermuda's recovery.
“The unions have now taken the necessary steps to arrange a series of membership meetings.”
Employees were told: “Your support is vitally important to our country's success.”
Mr Dickinson said that the coronavirus crisis brought “a new level of economic hardship for Bermuda and its people”.
He wrote: “Based on submissions by ministries and Ministry of Finance projections, unbudgeted Covid-19 expenditures for this fiscal year are estimated to be in the range of $80 to $90 million.
“These funds have been expended on things like the Unemployment Benefit Programme; Covid-19 testing; personal protective gear, supplies and equipment; homeless shelters; quarantine facilities; and more.
“Further, all public officers continued to receive full salary during the shelter-in-place phase despite the loss of tax revenue, and in some cases, our inability to provide full-service levels.
“We are still progressing through the phased reopening of Bermuda and economic activity is just beginning.”
The minister warned: “Covid-19 will cause a major decline in government revenues.
“This is caused both directly by the economic slowdown and indirectly by necessary tax policy and administrative measures taken in response.
“The Ministry of Finance estimates that revenue yields for 2020-21 could be reduced by an estimated $200 to $225 million.
“After factoring in the impact of Covid-19, the revised deficit for 2020-21 is estimated to be in the range of $275 to $315 million.
“This level of deficit is not only unsustainable but economically and fiscally imprudent.
“When considering the current high level of our public debt, the Ministry of Finance regards this level of deficit as a serious challenge.
“The Government's target is to keep the deficit for 2020-21 below $175 million.”
Mr Dickinson said: “The Government now needs to raise $700 million to finance the 2020-2021 deficit, refinance short-term credit facilities and other current government bonds with relatively high interest rates and also fund possible deficits over the next two years.
“If Government does not convince foreign creditors and rating agencies of our absolute commitment to manage this crisis and control our deficits, credit rating downgrades will come.
“Continuing declines in our ratings will not only lead to higher interest rates, but threatens the job security of public servants, it threatens the job security of those people employed in international business and the job security of all those companies and individuals employed in providing services to international business.
“This will result in the loss of more Bermudian jobs. We cannot allow this to happen.”
Mr Dickinson told public-sector workers: “Your dedication and love for your country have amazed me. Your hard work has brought us to this point.
“Thank you for giving your best to Bermuda during the past few months. I'm not alone in my recognition, the Government received hundreds of e-mails, letters, and social media posts from grateful residents extending their thanks as well.”
David Burt, the Premier, said at a press conference yesterday: “I do not wish to classify this as a pay cut, it is savings.”
He added: “There is no public officer who will be taking home less funds with the proposal that is going forward from the Government to the union membership for ratification.”
Chris Furbert, the Bermuda Industrial Union president, said earlier that the union would hold three meetings next Monday and Tuesday to update its public sector members on negotiations with the Government.
Mike Charles, the general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, confirmed that the organisation will hold meetings tomorrow.
The Royal Gazette was unable to contact Armell Thomas, the president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, but it was understood that its meetings are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
• To view the Minister of Finance's open letter to public officers, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”