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Anger over racial discrepancies in pay

Stumped by divide: Lovitta Foggo discussed inequality

Census results have confirmed a wage gap based on race, a Cabinet member told MPs.

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Government Reform, said that income differences had not levelled out and that legislation requiring equal pay for equal work had “limited impact”.

She added: “There is an absolute difference between white wages and black wages.”

Ms Foggo was speaking in the House of Assembly last Friday on the Population and Housing Census Report for 2016.

Ms Foggo told MPs the document “tells the story of income disparity, wage gap, inequality in pay and unequal distribution”.

She said: “Call it what you will. The facts are the facts. The racial wage gap is real.”

Ms Foggo said analysis of the census results by race and sex showed income increases across every category except for black men “who experienced a decline in median annual gross incomes from main job”.

She added the income difference between white men and black men remained huge.

Ms Foggo said that the census also found seven per cent of Bermuda’s population was unemployed.

She added: “The unemployment rate for blacks — nine per cent — is triple that of whites.”

Ms Foggo said she was “stumped” and “floored” by the racial earnings divide.

She said the issue was one that “we were all elected and put here to deal with”.

Michael Dunkley, the former Premier, said the numbers showed areas in which a “great deal” of work needed to be done.

Mr Dunkley said: “This census accurately portrays some of the challenges that we face. We will support whatever initiatives that can be put in place to deal with some of the challenges.”

Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, said the 13 per cent decrease in median income for black men since 2010 was “dramatic”.

Mr Brown added: “That speaks to a practice of institutionalised discrimination, there is no other explanation and it is a serious cause for concern.”

Trevor Moniz, the Shadow Attorney-General, said that it was important to examine job losses not only in terms of race, but also sectors in which people are employed, as well as in terms of Bermudians and non-Bermudians.

Mr Moniz said: “There are interesting factors in the Bermudian society that will affect this.”

He highlighted a trend where farm labourers now came from Jamaica rather than the Azores.

Mr Moniz added: “They were white, they’re now black. None of them are Bermudian. Therefore, in terms of what people are doing in terms of Bermudians, to my mind it doesn’t really matter if those workers are black or white.

“If you change their colour tomorrow it’s not going to make Bermudians better off or worse off, but it will affect your statistics.”

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said the census underlined two “glaring” issues — a lack of healthcare and an ageing population.

Rolfe Commissiong, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, said that the “very destructive and negative impacts” among Bermuda’s black population was because “the black community largely doesn’t have the resources, the income and the wealth to insulate them from those impacts”.

Jeanne Atherden, the Opposition Leader, said that tackling employment issues in Bermuda should be a cross-party issue.

Ms Atherden added: “I believe that some things such as workforce development and having a long-term plan, sometimes you have to say politics has to come out of that.”

Jamahl Simmons, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, said he was surprised how little the poverty level had changed since the previous census.

He blamed part of the problem on institutional racism in Bermuda.

Mr Simmons said he told his sons: “It’s my job to ensure that you will never have to beg for a job or beg for a loan.”

He added: “We must change our thinking. We have to tackle the structures of institutional racism.”