MPs pass minimum wage Bill
A minimum wage for employees moved a step closer to becoming a reality last night after the passing of legislation in the House of Assembly.
The Employment (Minimum Wage Entitlement) Bill 2022 introduces provisions to give employees in Bermuda a “right of entitlement” to a statutory minimum wage, set at $16.40 per hour.
The Bill outlines procedures to determine if workers who are entitled to the minimum wage are receiving it and regulations that employers have to follow to show that they are complying with their obligations.
Enforcement officers will be able to investigate business records to ensure compliance and employers found to be in default will face financial penalties.
Opening the debate, Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, said that work on a minimum wage had started in 2019.
He said that the legislation would have “a positive impact” on Bermuda workers while also giving employers “necessary protections”.
But Jarion Richardson of the opposition One Bermuda Alliance questioned the timing of the Bill, suggesting it was being pushed through by the Government for political expediency.
He said that data that a Minimum Wage Commission had used to calculate the $16.40 figure was outdated and also asked why an economic impact study had not been compiled.
Pointing out that inflation currently stood at around 5 per cent, Mr Richardson said there was a risk that a minimum wage could drive prices higher.
Mr Richardson agreed that the issue of income inequality existed but questioned if a minimum wage would help those less well off.
He said: “I’m not sure which problem this legislation is trying to fix. It is a blunt instrument and there are more refined ways.”
Derrick Burgess, the deputy Speaker of the House, welcomed the Bill as “long overdue”, but also expressed concern that runaway inflation could result in the $16.40 recommendation being out of date before it was introduced next June.
He said: “It could solve the problem for a couple of weeks or months, but the way the cost of living is going today, that will be wiped out shortly.
“The cost of living is something we have to tackle and we have to tackle it quickly.”
Walter Roban, the Minister for Home Affairs, said a minimum wage was at the heart of the Progressive Labour Party’s philosophy and ideology.
But Scott Pearman of the OBA said the legislation need to be grounded in economic reality rather than political dogma.
He said: “I think that’s where the Bill goes wrong. I understand the moral case for a minimum wage but I suggest there’s a lack of reality about how the economy works.”
Mr Pearman questioned whether the $16.40 would be the take-home amount workers received after deductions.
Mr Hayward said: “The member is trying to get into the mechanics of the $16.40 and the calculations and what will be deducted. This Bill specifically speaks to two things that will be done – the regulations and an order. In those regulations, and in the order, it will specifically speak to the deductions that are allowable, the ones that are not, and clarify the intention of the particular Act.
“Certainly, in the regulations and in the order that prescribes the minimum wage, those matters will be clarified.”
Mr Hayward described himself as “the minister at the door of the last resort” and said that anyone claiming that $16.40 was too high “should be ashamed of themselves”.
He also made an amendment to have inspectors responsible for enforcement designated by the minister.
Anthony Richardson, a PLP backbencher, addressed concerns about the legislation causing inflation.
He said: “This [legislation] allows employees to earn more, they can buy more for themselves and inflation will be lesser.”
Opposition MP Susan Jackson questioned what the Government was going to do about the cost of living that made it “absolutely ridiculous for people to live here”.
“We have a situation where people are asked to work for a minimum wage and be expected to be glad at the fact that this is some major gift that they are being given by government when it won’t have a huge impact on their living. People will still be in debt.”
Christopher Famous said that the OBA was arguing against achieving a living wage and were not “going after” those who were selling goods at inflated prices.