What’s In It for Us says Rolfe Commissiong

Bermuda, Let us not forget, the current Gencom /Westend Properties’ giveaway was the latest version of the deal that the Progressive Labour Party’s leadership election created.

Some four of five days before that vote – that included his challenger – the former Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson, David Burt announced that a final deal had been had (another one I might add). Of course in true gas-lighting form he neglected to tell Bermuda what it looked like. We now know why? My guess is that Chris Maybury, and the billionaire CEO of Gencom, Karim Alibhai and his partners actually got the deal they wanted from the beginning.

They just had to leave the Premier dangling in the wind for just over a year and eventually they knew he would come back to them with political cap in hand.

However, as I predicted privately the threat by Chris Maybury’s public declaration to take their tarnished Gencom and Westend Properies marbles and go home was not going to go over well with Bermudians. Maybe he has established his dominance over the feckless leadership of the current government, led by his good friend David Burt but I would still like to believe that real Bermudians are made of tougher stuff.

The arrogance here was stunning but predictable. Sir John Swan, David Burt and Chris Furbert have consistently claimed that this medicine is good for us. But really is it? The question I have consistently asked is what is in it for us? From where I sit and many other black Bermudians we have seen this movie over and over, decade after decade. We do know whom this deal will benefit; but us?

So here is the Commissiong Plan. And It starts with a question – Where is the equity for Bermudian workers is the question we all should be considering?
I believe this deal – albeit one that is significantly scaled back can at least be made more equitable for the workers – those earning poverty level wages and for black Bermudian businesses in the construction/development sector. I too want to see what was once our jewel in the crown – the former Southampton Princess Hotel renovated along with a reasonable number of units to support the financing. I get that as do the vast majority of Bermudians, including the environmentalists.. The number of units though is the issue and should be scaled back from the current level of 261 units under the current submitted plan perhaps down to 230.

As noted a compromise must be made. Our people have seen over our lifetimes literally scores of English men get off that plane like Maybury and within a decade or more have become masters of the Bermuda universe. It’s like they won the lottery by just landing in Bermuda. Though historically, at the expense of who?

The same criticism applies to the BIU under Chris Furbert are they now saying as long as those exploited foreign workers are paying union dues everything is honkey dory? Is this the attitude at work here on Union Square that ignores the social harm this business model has caused to our communities up and down Bermuda? Waiters today are earning just over eight dollars per hour in terms of their basic wage in unionized workplaces in our hotels and in some cases less in our restaurants.

That wage has been stagnant at that level for the most part for over the last fifteen years or more. That means that it is worse far less in purchasing power when one factors in inflation over that period. House keepers are doing better but for both the season keeps getting shorter (see below). That wage should have been raised as I recommended repeatedly to at least eleven to twelve dollars per hour in 2024 and to a range of between twelve to thirteen dollars per hour by 2025, without the gratuities scheme being factored into the calculation of basic pay when it comes to the employees in the affected categories. This should be implemented immediately.

It also got worse as Hayward recently passed legislation that represents one of the greatest sellouts in the history of employment rights of workers in Bermuda by establishing a so called” hybrid wage” structure that allows employers of persons earning gratuities to establish the wage of workers based upon a model that allows them to use gratuities in the determination of their basic wage. This scheme lacks equity and allows for the continuation of a business model predicated upon the payment of poverty level wages in certain occupational categories within the hospitality industry.

Gratuities and commissions are a variable and as such should not be used in the determination of basic pay. The fact that employers can top up the wage if it falls below the minimum wage level offers no comfort when the minimum wage recently passed only guarantees just over six hundred dollars per week.
The current Minister Hayward, the former Minister Lovitta Foggo and Cordell Riley, the head of the Wage Commission were directly warned against adopting this practice or any variation of it. This model has now been endorsed legislatively by our government and sadly the Bermuda Industrial Union. This provision needs to be rescinded immediately.

Even layoffs can now occur when occupancy levels fall to eighty five percent which was recently raised to that level without a peep by those who are supposed to defend the workers as in organized labour. Why, because the BIU under Furbert agreed to it and endorsed it publicly. This too will affect the earnings of workers by potentially – further shortening a season that has been significantly shortened already over the preceding decades. This provision also needs to be rescinded immediately.

Burt even allowed the developers to get away without even paying the redundancy payments due to the former workers at the hotel. Clearly this is not Freddie Wade’s party any longer. Not with a leadership determined unfortunately, to remake the party into a facsimile of the UBP circa 1989 or the OBA of 2016. Has anyone not noticed that none of the above was objected to by the OBA further strengthening the case that there is little to choose between the two.
We had a chance to make systemic and structural changes to our labour market as it relates to this employment sector that would also produce racial equity and this government refused to do so.

Can our young black men and women which disproportionately comprise the working poor in Bermuda with some having less than a college degree or a high school diploma earn a decent wage in that industry in the affected occupational categories? Look no further than that as the reason that fewer and fewer Bermudians are in that sector as they cannot afford to work for the wages being paid.

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