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Commission to set living wage rate

Lovitta Foggo (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The hotel industry backed a commission to set a living wage yesterday, but warned that “one size does not fit all”.

Stephen Todd, president of the Bermuda Hotel Association, said the group recognised the need for a living wage and a minimum wage but that the hospitality industry’s tradition of staff tips had to be considered.

He added: “We also wish to ensure that the wider community has a full appreciation of what it entails across multiple industries.

“We are supportive as an association, with the caveat that the uniqueness of our industry is taken into consideration.”

Mr Todd was speaking after Lovitta Foggo, the labour minister, said that a commission was to be set up to implement a living wage.

The Government’s Throne Speech last November promised to implement a wage in line with Bermuda’s cost of living during this session of Parliament.

Mr Todd said he would “not like to see it rushed through”.

He explained: “If they were to press forward right after the Budget, that would leave us with a finite time period.”

Mr Todd said a top concern in the hotel industry was for tipping to be taken into account.

He added: “Our understanding as an association is there is going to be further consultation to ensure any future legislation is reflective of the uniqueness of hotels.

“The discussion around a living wage or minimum wage has to factor in the component of gratuity.

“It is not a component of salary that can be overlooked.”

Mr Todd said the living wage would be “skewed” if it failed to take into account gratuities, which affected “significant” numbers of employees in the hotel industry.

He added that gratuities were given to a wide range of staff, from waiters and service staff to housecleaning and laundry workers.

Mr Todd said: “If I were a manager and I saw that individuals I was responsible for were now earning higher than I was, that would be a disincentive for management.”

He said the BHA had met the Bermuda Industrial Union and passed on its views to the ministers responsible for labour, tourism and finance.

Mr Todd added: “What we have asked them to do through consultation is to ensure that industries such as ourselves are taken into consideration.”

The labour ministry said the independent commission will be composed of “a body of experts”, including representatives from the Trade Union Congress and employer groups.

The creation of a wage commission was a recommendation of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on the Establishment of a Living/Minimum Wage Regime last year.

Ms Foggo said legislation for the creation of the commission was being worked on and three town hall meetings would be scheduled.

She said more than 90 per cent of members of the International Labour Organisation had a statutory wage scheme.

Ms Foggo said it was “unconscionable” for people to be working “two or three jobs, who are still barely able to put food on the table”.

She said even small wage increases had “a profound impact on people’s wellbeing and happiness, both in the workplace and at home”.

The JSC report said that a statutory wage floor to support those who are economically insecure was needed.

The report added: “Incipient poverty, the erosion of the middle class and growing despair have led to charities and assistance programmes of various types being overwhelmed as growing numbers of Bermudians, including children, do without the economic necessities required to lead productive and fulfilling lives.”