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Wight warns over possible consequences of minimum wage as senators pass law

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John Wight, independent senator (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

John Wight, an independent senator and leading business figure, has warned that the introduction of a minimum wage risks increasing unemployment.

He was speaking as the upper chamber yesterday as it passed legislation guaranteeing a base salary of $16.40 an hour from next June.

Mr Wight, who stood down as chairman of BF&M last week, and is a former president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he would not vote against the measure but Bermuda would need to “keep its wide eyes open” to the unfolding impact of the move on businesses.

He told fellow senators: “As I look at this, there is certainly opportunities and risks involved.

“The opportunities that struck me are for those earning less than $16.40 an hour and struggling to meet their needs for themselves and their families.”

Referring to risk element, he said: “We will have to await what the consequences are, hopefully there are no consequences for unemployment.

“But, I think it’s a balanced view that this has happened successfully and unsuccessfully in other countries. It comes at the risk of potential unemployment.

“But, I just think we just have to have our eyes wide open to what the consequences are for businesses going forward.”

Robin Tucker, One Bermuda Alliance senator (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Robin Tucker, the One Bermuda Alliance labour spokeswoman warned that while her party supported legislation, some businesses might have to “close their doors” as a result.

Ms Tucker said: “We in the Opposition agree that workers must have a fair, reasonable wage in order to sustain themselves and to meet their basic needs.

“We also recognise that there are some employers who already pay minimum wage and above, but there are also others that seek to take advantage of their employees by paying them low wages.

“But $16.40 for a lot of people is a lot better than what they are currently experiencing.

“The minimum wage is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation because we have to, as a country, balance the needs of people with our economy.

“And, so, paying a minimum wage for some employers will be difficult and in that difficulty they may end up … closing their doors, which will mean people will lose their jobs.

“On the other hand, we need to make sure that the economy is righted so that people can be adequately supported and employers as well as workers can be adequately supported.

“It’s a difficult situation for any government to be in. A stable economy must work in tandem with the minimum wage.

“While we support the awarding of a minimum wage, I truly believe that we have to be uber-vigilant … about up-righting our economy.”

Leslie Robinson, economy and labour junior minister, said the Government had set-up a Wage Commission in 2019 to look into all aspects of the issue.

She said all workers needed to receive a “dignified” wage.

Ms Robinson added: “During their deliberation, members of the commission provided feedback from the various stakeholders and it was suggested that from a business perspective a minimum wage around $15 per hour could be tolerable.

“However, one that was around $18 per hour, or more could have potentially negative impacts on the targeted work force as employers may reduce workers, reduce hours, or close down altogether.

“On the recommendation of the Wage Commission, the Ministry of Economy and Labour has set a minimum hourly wage rate of $16.40.

“This new statute will have a positive impact on Bermuda’s workforce as every employee is entitled to receive a dignified and more equitable wage.

“Enhanced protections for a minimum hourly wage will increase efficiencies and enhance social protection.”

The Employment (Minimum Hourly Wage Entitlement) Act 2022 went through without a vote.

The Senate also passed eight other pieces of legislation, including; the Morgan’s Point Company Act 2022, which creates a government-owned company to oversee the redevelopment of the failed hotel property.

The Morgan’s Point Company will have the power to hold the land, buy more of the Morgan’s Point property and to find a new developer for it.

Other legislation approved was the Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 4) Act 2022; the Fuels Amendment Act 2022 and the Development and Planning Amendment Act 2022.

Also passed were; the Bermuda Educators Council Amendment Act 2022; the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Amendment Act 2022; the Insurance Amendment Act 2022, and the Bermuda Monetary Authority Amendment (No. 3) Act 2022.

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Published December 15, 2022 at 7:47 am (Updated December 15, 2022 at 7:47 am)

Wight warns over possible consequences of minimum wage as senators pass law

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