As we celebrate this day, I take this opportunity to give my sincere thanks and gratitude to each and every worker for the contributions you make to our Island home. The previous year has been a tumultuous journey, and I salute all of you for braving one of the most challenging times of our lives. We have endured much, and I thank you for your resilience. Together we will continue to put in the work to restore our economy.
Since my appointment as the Minister of Labour, I embraced the responsibility to leadBermuda’s workforce out of the darkness that is the pandemic. This Government has, and always will, have your back. We will continue to work towards promoting opportunities for our people, respectable work, and industrial harmony.
One of the Government’s main priorities is ensuring we continue to support the workforce and getting Bermudians back to work. To that end, we have feverishly worked to provide the necessary support for workers and their families. Our commitment to you, the people of Bermuda, have been demonstrated throughout the year.
Since March 2020, the Bermuda Government has committed over $70M in Unemployment Benefit payments as a temporary lifeline to those in financial need due to the pandemic. In continued support of Bermudians and their families, over 2000 individuals have received monthly Supplementary Unemployment Benefits and, if needed, Health Insurance.
While last year’s focus was on strength, our priority now is on ensuring Respectable Work, Industrial Peace and Opportunity for all Bermudians. We have already begun to accomplish these goals:
Effective June 1, 2021, changes to the Employment Act and Labour Relations Act strengthened the benefits and protection offered to all of Bermuda’s labour force. They also modernized and clarified the previous legislation to ensure alignment with international best practices. Some highlights of the legislation include:
• Employers are required to provide employees with a midway performance review during their probationary period to ensure they are aware of areas requiring improvement – if they are to complete probation successfully. Excluded from this are those services that require extendedprobationary periods due to the nature of work.
• Employees are no longer required to complete one year on the job before being entitled to paid time off from work to attend prenatal appointments.
• Bereavement leave now includesgrandparents, great-grandparents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
• Upon the termination of an employee, employers must pay all wages, other remuneration, or benefits owed to the employee within seven days or at the next interval that the employee would have usually been paid.
• Entitling employees to a meal break of at least 30 minutes after working continuously for five hours.
In light of the 30% increase in bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace, I consider the policies now required in all workplace environments one of the major additions to the employment act 2000. Also, recognizing that for many, current wages do not meet their basic needs, I tabled the Minimum Wage Report by the Wage Commission in the House of Assembly and remain steadfast in implementing a living wage.
Despite recent challenges, the Ministry of Labour’s commitment to working with all parties for peaceful relations is unwavering. We will continue engaging with workers and employers to promote harmonious industrial relations and working together for the good of Bermuda. The Government has simplified and reformed the dispute resolution procedure,strengthening industrial relations processes.
Opportunity for all Bermudians
Immediately following my appointment, I had the Ministry of Labour embark on a comprehensive reemployment strategy to
1. Reduce unemployment rates;
2. Prevent future unemployment; and
3. Connect the unemployed with job opportunities.
Since that time, the Department of Workforce Development has successfully serviced over 600 Bermudians with training, development, and employment services.
Despite these challenging times, through the Department of Workforce Development, this Government remained committed to investing in our youth and supporting their education and development by:
• Implementing the Graduate Training Program that includes paid internships and career readiness training;
• Retaining the Scholarship Programme, enabling students to continue their graduate studies;
• Keeping the Summer Jobs Programme, enabling college and university students to earn money while on summer break; and
• Expanding the Apprentice Programme, creating paid work experience opportunities across numerous occupational categories.
Committed to creating job opportunities for Bermudians, the Ministry of Labour leveraged specific immigration policies to place a Moratorium on 41 additional occupations bringing the total number of closed categories to 53. Additionally, the Ministry puts greater scrutiny on work permit applications to ensure capable and qualified Bermudians are not passed over for job opportunities and can capitalize on available jobs.
Lastly, the Department of Financial Assistance will play a critical role in the Government’s long term plans as we work to get Bermudians employed. Financial Assistance Reform will require everyone on financial assistance to havePersonal Employment Plans that will guide and enable them to achieve financial independence.
The pandemic remains with us and continues to devastate many countries around the world. As we move beyond the pandemic, I ask that we all take a moment to pray for our fellow workers and their families, many of whom are experiencing actual suffering.
This Government is confident that Bermuda will overcome all adversity. I urge everyone to unite and stand strong together, determined to build a better Bermuda— where one’s work is respectable, industrial relations are harmonious and there is the opportunity for all Bermudians to prosper.
Thank you, and I wish everyone a Happy Labour Day!