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House: ‘illegal’ work permits being issued

Progressive Labour Party MP Diallo Rabain has accused the Bermuda Government of issuing “essentially illegal” work permits to motor mechanics, landscape gardeners, electricians and welders.

Mr Rabain said he was “shocked” to learn from responses to parliamentary questions that 217 work permits had been issued in those categories since 2013, including 180 for landscape gardeners.

According to Mr Rabain, these professions fall under the National Occupation Certification Act, which states that workers must have national certification or a proven equivalent certification. A violation of the law allows for a fine of up to $10,000, he added.

“When this was put in place back in 2009, it was an important step in levelling the playing field,” he told the House of Assembly on Friday.

“It meant that anyone applying for a work permit had to compete against a Bermudian who was already deemed certified in that particular category.”

But Mr Rabain said there was no information available when he asked about how many of the 217 work permits issued had qualified or been issued national certification.

“This is amazing to me,” he said. “It's amazing because we have a law in place that says you have to be certified.

“We have a law in place that will fine you as a potential employer for hiring anyone under these fields, and there's supposed to be a list of everyone that is certified kept at the Department of Workforce Development and on their website, so you can check and see if they've been registered.

“So to come back with an answer that there is no data, means that they haven't been registered.

“This Government has allowed this to happen right under their noses. There's been a policy put in place to protect Bermudian jobs by levelling the playing field and they have run roughshod over that policy.

“What do we tell our people who are looking for these employment? What do we tell our people who are our there getting their national certification, who are paying their fee to get nationally certified and they are letting people come in here, get permits and not have to go through the same process. And they're not policing the process and fining the employers that are deliberately circumventing this law.”

Mr Rabain questioned how this could be reconciled with the former Minister of Home Affairs making statements “almost weekly” about “the great job we're doing” and “protecting Bermudian jobs”, “all the while circumventing the law, all the while allowing employers to be issued work permits that are essentially illegal”.

Mr Rabain added that the One Bermuda Alliance Government insists “they have all the answers”.

“The answer we are getting so far is, let's figure out a way to circumvent the law, let's figure out a way to say that we have overemployement because we are issuing out all these work permits, but we're issuing out work permits that contravene the very things we put in place to protect jobs for our people.

“217 permits have been issued since 2013 and not one of them they can prove have either a qualification that exempts them from being nationally certified or that they've even been nationally certified. What are we going to do?”

Mr Rabain also questioned the effectiveness of the Bermuda Job Board after the responses to his questions about the total number of jobs advertised there in 2014 and 2015 were that these numbers yielded no information.

He said there was no data for how many jobs listed were filled by a Bermudian not registered at the Department of Workforce Development or the Job Board, a Bermudian registered at either one, or how many work permits were issued or renewed.

While One Bermuda Alliance MP Jeff Sousa defended the “hard-working” staff at the Department of Workforce Development, he also stressed that Bermudians needed guidance about choosing professions with employment opportunities.

“We need people to be landscape gardeners,” he said. “This is something a lot of Bermudians don't want to do. And that has been the way for the past 40 years.

“When I was at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, you could count on one hand how many people were involved in horticulture in that department.”

While Mr Sousa said there had been positive changes since then, “more can be done”.

He suggested uniform job listings when it comes to professions such as landscaping, adding that he “hates” seeing job advertisements requiring landscapers to know how to graft citrus or to “not be afraid of large dogs”.

“That is ludicrous and should not be tolerated.”

Jobs concerns: MP Diallo Rabain (File photograph)

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Published June 06, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 06, 2016 at 9:03 am)

House: ‘illegal’ work permits being issued

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