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MPs agree to set up minimum wage commission

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

MPs have approved setting up a commission to look at the creation of a minimum wage.

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, said that the purpose of a minimum wage was to “protect workers against unduly low pay”.

She added: “The days of Bermudians being able to pick and choose jobs are gone.

“The current economic climate puts the demand-and-supply equation for labour in the employer’s favour.

“Unskilled workers now have to compete for jobs and exploitation of workers is occurring.”

Ms Foggo, speaking in the House on Friday night, highlighted a job advertisement this year that had looked to hire a live-in caregiver.

The post offered pay of $10 an hour, less room and board, for a 60-hour week.

She added that the employee was also expected to be on call seven nights a week.

Ms Foggo said: “I think that we can all agree that this embodies the term ‘exploitation’.”

The Employment (Wage Commission) Act 2019 will create a six-strong Wage Commission made up of a chairman and five members.

It will also include two ex officio members from the ministries responsible for labour and finance.

Its main function will be the recommendation of a minimum hourly wage and a living wage.

The Act defined a living wage rate as the “amount of income necessary to afford an employee and his household a socially acceptable standard of living” and covered food, clothing, housing, medical treatment, childcare and transport.

Ms Foggo said that the chairman would be paid $100 a meeting and members would be paid $50 a meeting.

Leah Scott, the deputy Opposition leader, said that the Bill was a “step in the right direction”.

She said: “People should be able to live with dignity and they should be paid for the jobs that they do.”

Ms Scott, a member of the parliamentary joint select committee on the establishment of a living wage, said that the cost of living on the island also had to be looked at.

She explained: “You can’t have wages go up and other things are going up at the same time.”

Ms Scott said that business input on the wages was also essential.

Rolfe Commissiong, also a committee member, said that the Bill showed Bermudians that “help is on the way”.

He added: “This is not going to solve all of our problems — but certainly this is going to offer some relief and benefit to those who have been struggling with low-level, even poverty-level wages in our country.”

Mr Commissiong, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, said that both Bermudians and non-Bermudians would benefit.

He added that Bermudians should “stop pointing the finger” at non-Bermudians that worked in low-paying jobs.

Mr Commissiong said: “They are trying to support their families back home.

“Let’s put the focus on the systemic problem which has precipitated this ... and focus on those unscrupulous employers who have been very happy to be reaping those profits.”

Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker, said that he took exception to the exploitation of workers, “particularly the workers from overseas”.

He added: “We shouldn’t be allowed modern-day slavery in terms of what they are paid in Bermuda.”

Jeanne Atherden, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, questioned the use of the phrase “socially acceptable standard of living” to define the living wage rate.

She asked: “How does one define what is a socially acceptable standard of living?

“That depends on who you are and what you think.”

Ms Foggo said that Bermuda was “clearly behind the times”.

She added: “Today, we are on the road to making a living wage a reality for Bermuda.

“Our people deserve to live with dignity, they deserve to enjoy decent work, and a part of that is to provide for a living wage.

“This legislation will make it happen.”