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PLP not interested in living wage law, former MP says

Rolfe Commissiong

A former MP has claimed that the Progressive Labour Party has been taken over by rightwingers with no interest in the creation of minimum and living wages.

Rolfe Commissiong said David Burt’s election promise to bring down the cost of living and introduce a living wage was designed as a “vote winner” and that others in his Cabinet had no interest in its promotion.

He added: “When we talk about the living wage, it is a public policy imperative — it should have been done.

“In 2017, this was a significant mandate for the Premier. I can only surmise he is kicking the can down the road.

“They need to come to the table. They already came up with a range of wage levels that categorised the minimum wage. Where is it?”

Mr Commissiong said: “We have seen growing numbers in the party who are conservative, not as progressive and pro-labour.

“I would put the Premier, the former finance minister, Curtis Dickinson, and Jason Hayward, the economy and labour minister, in that category.

“Is the party as progressive and pro-labour as it has been in the more recent past? I don’t think so.”

The broadside came less than a week after Mr Commissiong wrote an opinion piece for The Royal Gazette where he said that the PLP had failed to improve the lives of those who earned the least.

Mr Commissiong, then the PLP opposition MP for Pembroke South East, tabled a motion in 2016 that asked for a joint select committee to be set up to “examine the efficacy of establishing a liveable wage for Bermuda”.

The One Bermuda Alliance said that a joint select committee should be set up.

But the PLP came to power in July 2017 and Mr Commissiong tabled a second motion for a joint select committee.

The PLP said in its 2017 Throne Speech that the establishment of a living/minimum wage was a priority.

The Cost of Living Commission, renamed from the Price Commission, would be established by legislation in December 2017 — with Mr Commissiong installed as the chairman.

The report on a living wage was tabled in the House of Assembly in July 2018.

The Bermuda Wage Commission was set up in February 2020 and a report was tabled in the House of Assembly last May that gave three options for a minimum hourly rate — $13.20, $15.75 and $17.30.

Mr Commissiong said discussions had been drawn out for far too long and that it had had a detrimental effect on society — especially on Black working class people.

He added: “When I was in Opposition, I carried the ball on the legislative front to get the issue front and centre.

“I had noticed a trend that disturbed me. Going back to the late 1990s right up to today, you had a growing number of employers in certain sectors of our economy — hospitality, restaurants, hotels, construction and in landscaping — who hired a low-cost, foreign workforce.

“This began to stagnate wage growth and led to a decline in wages, particularly for Black Bermudians who had come out with a high school diploma or less who were finding it difficult to earn a decent standard of living. In some cases, they were getting poverty-level wages.

“When I proposed to the House by way of a motion that it endorse the adoption of a living wage for Bermuda, it was in the middle of that period. We are still seeing this trend continuing in a way that is producing social harm.”

Mr Commissiong said that at least half of the young men entering public high schools were dropping out and that Bermuda’s business model leant towards hiring foreigners in some sectors, which marginalised Black workers.

He added: “They are not being given a fair shot and what happens next? Illicit drug trade and gang formation, which we are still being affected by.”

He said that the high cost of living had driven people away from the island and that too much emphasis was put on benefits for businesses at the expense of workers.

Mr Commissiong said: “I firmly believe that a living wage will represent an economic benefit — the more inclusive the economy the better for everyone.

“We need to raise tax revenues in a progressive way to ensure businesses are paying their fair share, which isn’t the case now.

“Then we can eliminate payroll tax and reduce the Customs duties which helps to ameliorate the cost of living and reduce the burden on small to medium-size enterprises.”

Mr Commissiong said: “This isn’t just a social justice issue. It is a racial issue and moral one as well.”

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Published April 07, 2022 at 10:01 am (Updated April 07, 2022 at 10:01 am)

PLP not interested in living wage law, former MP says

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