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Parties clash over island’s pay gap

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The Bermuda Government and Opposition sparred throughout the Throne Speech debate, with the One Bermuda Alliance pointing to a “rising tide” of economic recovery and the Progressive Labour Party highlighting those left behind.

OBA MP Jeff Sousa spoke for the former, criticising the PLP narrative that the governing party turned a blind eye to the hardships felt by ordinary Bermudians.

“So often I hear those on the other side say that we don't care,” Mr Sousa told the House, saying he saw jobs growing and the “tide turning”, adding that the next couple of years would be “unprecedented in our history”.

Finance minister Bob Richards conceded that a gap between “haves and have-nots” had become a common feature throughout the world, exacerbated by recession.

“We've just emerged from six years of recession; no other country I know has gone through that,” Mr Richards said, chastising the PLP for “economic mismanagement” that had left the island vulnerable.

“During a six-year recession, the poorest always suffer the most.”

Mr Richards contended that closing the gap between rich and poor could not be done in a foundering economy, saying: “We have to right the ship first.”

The minister lamented that Bermuda lacked up-to-date job statistics, saying indicators such as retail figures or tourism arrival and spending told a different tale.

Many Opposition MPs made reference to the need for a living wage, with Derrick Burgess focusing on the plight of seniors and the persistent wage disparities between black and white workers.

Noting the Reply's opening reference to “two Bermudas” — taken from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens — Opposition MP Zane DeSilva highlighted a recent reference in this newspaper by John Wight, head of the Chamber of Commerce, to the quandaries faced by disenfranchised Bermudians.

Mr DeSilva quoted to the House that “we have far too many in our community who do not see a better Bermuda for themselves and their children in 2017 and beyond” — telling MPs that if the island failed to address the predicaments of young black men, then “we will feel the continued effects”.

Michael Weeks, MP for Pembroke East Central, said that “two Bermudas is more than a term; it's a reality”.

“As I go out on the doorsteps, the conversations go a lot of the time to the economy, the lack of jobs, the underemployment. Rather than point the finger, I have to realise that we do have two Bermudas.”

Examining the possibility of imposing a living wage was agreed upon by both sides of the House earlier this year in the wake of widespread protests in March over immigration reforms.

Hitting back after a Throne Speech that emphasised economic recovery and job growth, Opposition leader David Burt has repeatedly charged the OBA with failing Bermudians, telling the House yesterday that: “While one Bermuda enjoys wealth, privilege and security, the other Bermuda is living from paycheque to paycheque, if they are lucky enough even to be collecting a paycheque”.

MP Michael Weeks speaks on the steps of City Hall (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
One Bermuda Alliance MP Jeff Sousa

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Published November 16, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated November 16, 2016 at 1:10 am)

Parties clash over island’s pay gap

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