The Bermuda Government has paid out over $58M in unemployment benefits “to assist those displaced from the workforce” as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Families hard hit by loss of income, has resulted in “approximately 400 additional families receiving social and economic support from the Department of Financial Assistance to help sustain them since the onset of the pandemic”.

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday (Feb 4), Minister of Labour, Jason Hayward said: “This critical policy intervention provided social protections to many Bermudians.

With more than 2,000 residents on financial assistance, he said reform initiatives will see major changes.

“We are repositioning the Department so that employment support is a critical and mandatory feature provided to every able-bodied individual receiving benefits.

“The reform aims to strengthen education, training and employment services to recipients of financial assistance,” he added.

“This Government made a promise to the people of Bermuda that no person shall go hungry. As the Minister of Labour, my goal is to ensure this promise is kept.

“To provide financial protection for all Bermudians in the event of job loss, the Ministry is establishing the Unemployment Insurance Program, which will ensure funds are readily available when needed. Consultation with stakeholders has already begun in this regard.

“Additionally, the Wage Commission, chaired by Mr Cordell Riley, will recommend minimum and living wage rates to help support struggling families whose wages do not cover their basic needs. The aim is to increase the quality of life for low-income earners, allowing persons to provide for themselves and their families.

“After receiving the Wage Commission’s report, the Government will table a Wage Bill in Parliament that will establish a statutory minimum wage and a national living wage,” said Mr Hayward.

No definitive timeline was set on when that Bill will go to Parliament.

Overall, he said the Ministry “is working toward achieving its missing of ‘establishing effective policies that help foster the expansion of jobs and economic growth’ in Bermuda”.

In doing so, he said, the objectives of the Ministry are:

  • To utilise labour policy to minimise the adverse effects of the global pandemic on our labour force;
  • To provide social support and employment services for Bermuda’s unemployed and underemployed population; and
  • To facilitate the requisite supply of labour for jobs demanded by the labour market.

“The direct linkage between employment and the state of our economy is evident. Therefore, we must meet our objectives to ensure that our economy works best for all Bermudians,” the Minister added.

“Countries worldwide are tasked with implementing effective policy solutions to address the unanticipated social and economic challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In these unprecedented times, leaders and governments must ensure that they remain resilient and laser-focused on implementing critical policy responses.

“To address our economic condition, the Ministry is using managed immigration as one of the strategic tools to support economic growth. While this tool will assist in improving the economy, we recognise that it will not be enough.

“The initiatives undertaken by this Ministry attest to its steadfast commitment to remedy the social and economic challenges facing Bermuda.”

He also noted that the improvement of productivity “is one of the critical components needed to facilitate meaningful growth in the economy”.

“To create an environment conducive to productivity and empowerment of the labour force,” he said “additional benefits and protections through our strengthening of the Employment Act”.

Those amendments “now form part of the law entitles employees to a 30-minute meal break after working continuously for five (5) hours; it ensures employers have a workplace policy against bullying and sexual harassment and revises what constitutes an independent contractor to avoid abuse”.

“In response to the economic crisis, the Ministry of Labour unveiled the National Reemployment Strategy in September 2020, designed to get people back to work,” the Minister added.

“The overarching objectives of this strategy are threefold: to reduce current unemployment, to prevent future unemployment, and to facilitate the ease of finding employment.

Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:

To promote job opportunities for Bermudians, the Ministry has placed a moratorium on 41 additional occupations which now brings the total number of closed job categories to 53. They include administrative assistants, handymen, HR officers/managers, reporters/journalists, waiter/servers, and electricians. This decision restricts employment for guest workers’ while enabling Bermudians to take advantage of more available jobs.

The new St Regis hotel is scheduled to open in April 2021. The Government has been working directly with St Regis to ensure that Bermudian hospitality professionals and Bermudians interested in working in the hospitality industry have the opportunity to work at the hotel.

Reemployment strategy initiatives undertaken to date include the following:

  • Utilising professional recruitment agencies to match talented workers to local job opportunities by connecting qualified Bermudians to employers with current job vacancies.
  • Facilitating training and development programs which have provided reskilling and upskilling opportunities to over 110 people in the following categories:
    • Cleaning Technician Training
    • Administrative Assistant Training
    • Horticulture Training
    • Learn-to-Earn Restaurant Training
    • Food & Beverage Waiter Server Training
    • Computer Literacy Training
    • Digital Literacy for Administrative Professionals
  • Implementing the Graduate Training Program that provides paid internships allowing young Bermudians to gain industry experience in their area of study and benefit from expert guidance to build their personal brand. Additionally, all participants will receive career readiness training that will include modules on:
    • Developing Your brand
    • Emotional Intelligence and Communication
    • Diversity and Inclusion
    • Office Etiquette

The Ministry’s sole focus is leveraging the Departments within its purview to effectively and strategically help get our economy back on track and achieve a productive workforce that is even better than pre-COVID.

While much has been done to support our people, this Ministry recognises that we have much more to do. The Government, however, cannot do it alone. Our success as a country will only come about through partnerships with local businesses. Together we can and must do our part to create an environment that provides opportunities for Bermudians, especially our young people who have the skills to excel in the workplace.

It is through working together that Bermuda will see its best days.

I urge persons currently seeking employment, to register with the Department of Workforce Development to take advantage of the current and future opportunities