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Unions accuse government of ‘dropping ball’ on minimum wage

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Keeping the red flag flying: Members of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress march to the Cabinet Building in recognition of International Workers Day. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Union leaders have accused the Government of “dropping the ball” on the living and minimum wages while not doing enough to combat the cost of living crisis.

After giving a speech to mark International Workers’ Day, David Burt, the Premier, refused to answer questions on the complaints. However, Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, did commit the Government to setting a minimum wage.

Kevin Grant, general secretary of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress warned that the minimum wage had been “a can that has been kicked down the road” for some time because a figure had yet to be set.

Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said his union was “very concerned” about the situation with the liveable wage and minimum wage.

Asked if he thought the Government had dropped the ball on the issue, Mr Furbert told a press conference: “I do, yes. Let’s call a spade a spade.

“The amount of time it has taken now for the Government, or the committee, to even address a liveable wage.

“The minimum wage was passed last May. It is almost 12 months down the road and we have had very little about a liveable wage.

BTUC march to the Cabinet Building in recognition of International Workers Day. Pictured- Nishanthi Bailey (left) and Anthony Wolffe (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“Because understanding what is affecting the people in Bermuda is having a reasonable quality of life. Workers have no disposable income.”

Mr Furbert said that many workers were now leaving the island for better lives overseas. “They see no future here for them in Bermuda,” he added.

“And until the country can recognise, and, by extension, the Government can recognise, and until we can address a lot of these issues around social inequality, they are not going to get better, they are going to get worse.”

Questions David Burt Refused To Answer

Union leaders just said that you dropped the ball on the minimum/living wage, are they right?

Have you dropped the ball on the minimum/liveable wage?

Are you not going to address the concerns of the workers?

Mr Grant said: “If we were to be honest, we would not be happy with the progress that’s being made with reference to the decision on what’s going to be a liveable, or minimum, wage.

“The minimum wage has been... a can that has been kicked down the road for some time now.

“There has been a consistent need or, a requirement for, government to address this particular issue. It has been around for some time.

“To say that the Government has dropped the ball, it may be a bit strong, but the proof is in the pudding.

“It’s been two years of a crazy pandemic, so I don’t know that that could be a factor as to why the issue has not been dealt with as it probably should have been.

“I think that we can highlight a number of concerns.”

Newly appointed BTUC president Nishanthi Bailey said the Government was not doing enough to combat the cost of living crisis.

“When you consider what workers have done, what they contribute to our society, the sacrifices that have been made, I think we all can agree that the Government can do better on that front as well.”

Mr Burt did not take questions after his speech and when approached by The Royal Gazette at the event refused to comment on the union concerns.

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 Hayward said in June 2021 that the living wage was to be fast tracked.

He said at the time that the Wage Commission would be ordered to release its next report on a living wage in six months’ time rather than one year as planned.

Asked if, as unions claim, the Government had “dropped the ball” on the liveable/minimum wage issue, Mr Hayward, told The Royal Gazette: “Certainly not.

“It is still at the forefront of our agenda and we will be moving forward with the implementation of a statutory minimum.

“The Government has decided to move forward with the statutory minimum wage and we are doing the policy work to support that particular initiative.”

David Burt, the Premier, addresses members of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress at the Cabinet Building (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

He added: “I accept that the cost of living is an ongoing concern and we will continuously work to support workers in this economy.”

The minister denied the PLP had lost touch with workers. “Certainly not. We are keenly focused on workers’ rights,” he said.

Mr Hayward told ZBM he was looking to get a minimum wage figure agreed by the Cabinet at the end of this parliamentary term.

After announcing a new executive, BTUC members formed a colourful procession down to the Cabinet Office, where the speeches were made to mark May Day.

Ms Bailey supports May Day becoming a public holiday. She said: “Most definitely. It is something that is celebrated globally, especially in the UK. May Day is the day for workers.”

Mr Grant said that International Workers Day’ should be a public holiday as well as Labour Day and not one that replaces the September day off.

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Published April 30, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated April 30, 2022 at 7:51 am)

Unions accuse government of ‘dropping ball’ on minimum wage

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