Minimum wage is not a ‘con job’, Jason Hayward says
Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, has insisted that the new minimum wage is not a “con job”.
Marking the launch of the $16.40-an-hour measure, Mr Hayward was unable to give an exact figure regarding how many people it would have an impact on, merely stating that it was “in the hundreds”.
The minister said he that disagreed with former government MP Rolfe Commissiong that including gratuities in the calculation of wages amounted to a major “sell-out” for employment rights in Bermuda.
Mr Hayward said that the introduction of the minimum wage should not be used by employers to drive down wages for new and existing workers, with those who do so facing “costly penalties”.
He offered little to those who felt intimidated, stating that it was up to individuals affected to contact their union or the ministry about the situation.
Asked how he would respond to people who said that the minimum wage was a “con job” as allowable deductions, such as those for pensions, could bring wages below the $16.40 mark, Mr Hayward said: “There is no con job.
“We are being extremely transparent as it pertains to the wage, and we will be extremely transparent in terms of what can be deducted from that wage.”
The minister defended that, unlike in Britain, gratuities could be used to bring the hourly rate up to $16.40.
He said: “When we explored the way in which salaries were paid in hospitality in Bermuda, the majority of wages that those individuals were paid were not paid by base rates of employers, they were paid by the service charges and gratuities, and so we fundamentally paid persons different.
“The minimum wage was always designed to be gross and not net.
“It’s a good start, and we will continue to progress the wage.”
He said that “free tips”, where customers give cash to wait staff directly, would not be included in wage calculations.
Stating that employers should not exploit the situation, Mr Hayward said: “This is not an opportunity to alter current wages downward or introduce lower wages for new employees.
“It is important to note that employers paying higher rates of wages and providing more favourable terms and conditions of employment than the prescribed wages at the commencement of the Minimum Wage Order are required to continue to pay such higher salaries and provide more favourable employment terms and conditions.
“We will constantly monitor occupational categories throughout the economy, and if we find that persons are revising wages downwards, recommendations would come forward to have sectoral occupational wage rates set.”
The minister, who said that full measures would be outlined during the House of Assembly, declared that penalties for employers contravening minimum wage rules would be a fine of up to $7,000 plus a daily fine of $500.
Mr Hayward was vague on when the Government would achieve its aim of bringing in a living wage.
He said: “The next stage would be to have a meaningful conversation with the Wage Commission as to what are the next steps to complete a living-wage figure.
“The next six to 12 months will be appropriate as a time frame in terms of looking at laying out a map as to how we achieve a living wage in Bermuda.”
David Burt said that the minimum wage represented a “turning point” for Bermuda.
The Premier said: “Today is a milestone moment for Bermuda.
“The implementation of a minimum wage is more than just a policy. It is a symbol of our commitment to fairness, equity and dignity in the workplace.
“It is this Government’s commitment to uplift those who have long been the backbone of our society, while creating an economic environment in which every resident has a dignified wage.”
Mr Commissiong, the former Progressive Labour Party MP, called the inclusion of gratuities in the minimum wage calculation “one of the greatest sell-outs in the history of employment rights of workers in Bermuda”.
He wrote in The Royal Gazette: “This scheme lacks equity and allows for the continuation of a business model predicated on the payment of poverty-level wages in certain occupational categories within the hospitality industry.”
A guide to the minimum wage is available on the Department of Labour’s webpage on gov.bm.