PLP shoots down OBA’s Equality Act
Legislation tabled by the Opposition with the goal of encouraging equality was shot down by the Progressive Labour Party in the House of Assembly on Friday.
Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, said the Equality Act 2022 was intended to give courts and tribunals greater teeth to combat discrimination and to promote more diverse representation on government boards.
MPs debated the Bill but voted 21-6 against taking it to committee, the next stage in the process when a detailed examination of the clauses takes place.
Mr Pearman said the legislation would enshrine a presumption that all legislation concerning race, sex or other protected ground was intended to promote equality when possible.
Other branches of the Bill proposed harsher penalties for discrimination, encouraged equality in the make-up of government boards and aimed to create an unpaid Equality Council to promote equal opportunities for training, advancement and attaining managerial or influential positions.
Mr Pearman added that while the vast majority of legislation passed in the House of Assembly did so with support from both sides of the floor, he was not optimistic of the Bill’s chances.
“This Bill probably doesn’t have a hope of passing,” Mr Pearman added.
“We in the Opposition recognise that but we also recognise we cannot achieve greater unity if we don’t try.”
Tinee Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, said the PLP would not support the Bill because it “lacked substance”.
“I know that it can be very difficult and challenging bringing forth legislation when you don’t have the technical expertise and support to assist with Bills – not just the opposition but anyone,” she said.
“This Bill in its current form does not have the support of this government as it still requires much work and it has no added benefit to what exists currently now in the Human Rights Act.”
Ms Furbert said the creation of an Equality Council as proposed by the Bill would add “another level of red tape and bureaucracy” and would present a challenge for the Human Rights Commission.
“This government does not oppose strengthening the legislation that is in place to promote equality,” she said.
“What we want is a good Bill. We want a good, well-drafted Bill.”
Ms Furbert said anyone could make recommendations to the Human Rights Commission, and suggested that the proposed increase in penalties should be taken to them.
Craig Cannonier, the Shadow Minister of Works, Engineering and Tourism, said action must be taken to address discrimination faced by Bermudians in the workplace.
“Quite frankly, we don’t have enough teeth here especially when you have these larger organisations,” he said.
While he said the legislation might not be perfect, it was a stepping stone that could be implemented now in the advance of more robust improvements.
Mr Cannonier said: “These are some simple tools that we can put in place now that can help people now.”
Cole Simons, the One Bermuda Alliance leader, told the House: “If we are serious about raising our game, if we are serious about equity, justice and fairness to all people of this country, let’s put the politics aside and do what’s right, because guess what?
“Sooner or later these inequities will be in our backyards, will be with our children, will be with our grandchildren, will be with our spouses.
“We want a better Bermuda, we want a fairer Bermuda, we want a country that’s at peace with itself and the only way to do that is to ensure that there’s fairness and equity.”
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform, said: “If you want to promote the concept of equality, the provisions should reflect that.
“When you seek to single out government boards and committees, maybe that’s familiar territory, it lacks credibility in terms of the sincerity of the exercise because the inequality that we need to address does not only exist on boards and committees of the Government, it exists across the spectrum, in many organisations.”
Mr Pearman moved to take the Bill to committee but several MPs objected, which meant a vote was called.
All six of the Opposition OBA’s House of Assembly members were in favour but 21 PLP MPs voted against the legislation progressing to the next stage of the process.