Opinion: Burchall On Migrant Workers Wages

November 28, 2010

[Written by Larry Burchall] The BIU jumping to the defence of the people they call Migrant Workers is like a steak eater jumping to the defence of beef cattle.

Over twenty years ago, in 1988, the agreed Union rate for a Bermuda mason was $21 an hour and a skilled labourer was supposed to be paid the union rate of $13.00 an hour. Twenty years later, after massive price and cost of living increases that has seen the price of a loaf of bread rise from 1988′s $1.93 to 2010′s $3.74 (if you buy Marketplace’s home baked bread, and up to $5.30 if you do not), the Union is trying to deal with the globalization issue that helped keep wages down and depressed.

A skilled non-Bermudian mason today can still be had for $25 an hour and many skilled labourers are working for not much more than $14 or $15 an hour. These rates underpin the market pay rates. Some skilled persons will work for less. And in 2010′s tax climate, some wages are being cut.

A key factor in the agreement that any Migrant Worker will make with any employer is the value of a Bermuda Dollar when that Dollar is sent home. A Migrant Worker from say Sri Lanka, will work happily in a situation where he can save $250 a week and send that money home every week. He’s happy because those $250 Bermuda dollars about fifteen times once they land in Sri Lanka. This happens because in Sri Lanka, a decent three bedroom house in a nice middle class area costs about $60,000; as compared to Bermuda where the same will cost about $900,000 minimum.

So if that worker can stick out four of five rotten and hardpressed years in Bermuda, and send home $250 every week, he has an excellent outcome and can go home and live large.

Globalization and the laws of economics are what’s affecting pay rates in Bermuda today. The Migrant Worker’s values are completely different from those of the indigenous person. This is true in Italy, where Africans are the migrants; in Northern Europe where Eastern Europeans are the migrants; in the USA where Central Americans are the migrants; and everywhere else in the world where there is economic migration whether on legal Work Permits or illegal Border crossings.

When, in 1994, Bermuda switched out of Tourism and into International Business, Bermuda’s economy underwent a rapid expansion and needed to suck in thousands of extra people to fill the 13,000 extra jobs that began materializing. That is when Bermuda began globalizing. That is when thought and action was required. Now it is too late and Bermuda’s economy is actually dependent, and will remain dependent, on pay rates that have been ‘globalized’.

Bermuda is in the real world and has to adjust.

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  1. Graeme Outerbridge says:

    Excellent piece Larry Larry, but I think we can do something through immigration policy changes and creating a minimum wage^^

  2. Hmmm says:

    Agree with Mr. Outerbrigde. It isn’t too late, and we must take SOME measure to protect those so-called ‘indigenous’ (odd usage of the word, I’d say) Bermudians who are not having their pay tripled or quadrupled by sending it ‘home’. Or, the Bermudian worker who’s out of a job because the migrant is willing to work overtime and public holidays for less than what he’s statutorily entitled to.

    it’s not too late, and just because we’ve grown dependant doesn’t mean we should remain that way.

  3. David E. Chapman says:

    While much of Mr. Burchall’s opinion piece is directed towards an important issue relating to many labor-related issues in Bermuda, I feel his opening metaphor is not only inaccurate, and possibly nonsensical, but also unnecessary in the context of the rest of the piece. Although possibly not the purpose, it arises a suspicion of an attempt to malign the BIU and its positive contribution in the course of making what is otherwise a relevant point.

    While no organisation is perfect, and certainly not the people within it, the main purpose of the BIU is and has always been to protect the rights and welfare of workers in Bermuda. All workers. To compare the Union in this case to a “steak eater jumping to the defence of beef cattle”, suggests that the Union operates as an entity that is not only primarily concerned with raising a product but also has the development of this product for its consumption as its chief motivation for expressing care in their welfare. How Mr. Burchall makes this connection one can only wonder? Maybe the more fundamental question would be WHY Mr. Burchall would use this as an opening salvo for this opinion piece but the answer to this he only knows.

    Any person with a basic knowledge of the Union knows that it is a non-profit organisation, run by voting membership, with an extremely small operational staff and an ageing infrastructure. No excess there. All services emanating out of the Union exist solely for the benefit of its members. What motivation would the Union, its members or its staff have for seeking to enjoin the welfare of a shadow laborer group except the recognition that in many ways this group share a history of unfair treatment similar to that Bermuda’s workers did before the creation of the Union. Yes, the BIU’s members do have to compete for jobs with migrant labor, but that has always been the case and in all industries. I admire the BIU’s expression of solidarity as portrayed in this latest expression of concern; one worker’s welfare is a concern to all workers who have a shared experience. By helping the welfare of the shadow migrant labor force, including wages and treatment, the effect can only be positive for its own members.

    Although, I would be the first to admit that the existence of labor unions can bring both positive and negative attributes to the efficient functioning of modern society, I am also quite clear that Bermudians and the Bermuda society have a way of using inaccuracies as a basis for establishing damaging rhetoric, especially those with access to the media. As I said, the core of Mr. Burchall’s piece is relevant and important however creative license should be mixed with care when writing opinions on historical or current realities…

  4. LaVerne Furbert says:

    The “United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families”[1] defines migrant worker as follows:

    “ The term “migrant worker” refers to a person who is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national. ”

    The Convention has been ratified by Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines (amongst many other nations that supply foreign labour) but it has not been ratified by the United States, Germany, and Japan (amongst other nations that receive foreign labour).

    If Mr. Burchall had done his research, he would know that On December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly issued a proclamation that December 18th will be commemorated as International Migrants Day, and that the term “migrant worker” is an official term used by all international labour organisations.

  5. YoungBda'nEntrepreneur says:

     I enjoyed reading this article. However, there were some “reply comments” that raised my eyebrows in a questionable way.

    I am what would be classified as a young Bermudian entrepreneur. I consider Bermuda to be one of the most difficult places to develop a successful profit generating business; especially so when you decide to embrace “the game” with an early jumpstart. Instead of encouragement, you seem to be envied upon, or scrutinised by older conterparts. Even when I bypass the astonishing cost of living on this island, I would state that one of the most difficult tasks as an small-business owner, is obtaining qualified employees to ensure that you’ll be in business for years to come.

    Lately I’ve noticed how many local “employees” (“employee”- meaning non business owners), are extremely quick to review Bermuda’s high cost of living and assume that there should be a minimum wage. I even read in letters to the editor how this one gentleman stated that minimum wage in Bermuda should be at the starting rate of $20 for non-skilled workers. (HAHA… are you serious?) It’s evident this man either can not do basic math, or he thinks money grows on trees.  And if indeed there is a money tree… I would gladly pay him $20 per hour to plant one in my back yard. I for one knows that that will never be able to work. $20 per hour X 40hrs= $800 per week; $32,000 per month; $38,400 per year. Nowhere in the world the base pay for a non-skilled worker amounts to that type of money. 

    Say hypothetically, “John” (not a real person) owned a corner-shop and I have 3 full time employees 2 part-time employees. By law John will have to pay out benefits to all employees who work more than 4 hours per week. This means John now has to co-pay (50%) sky high medical insurance cost, social security cost, 2nd pension, payroll tax. All these things, may I remind you do not cost pennies on the dollar as some may think.  We are talking about thousands per month.  Heck, we haven’t even totaled in his other operation expenses (rent, utilities, supplies, relief staff, FOOD…).

    So okay, right now you can scurry in at lunch time and buy John’s chicken-salad sandwich at $3.50 and a drink at $2.00. That’s a $5.50 meal at John’s current cost of operation (low wages on behalf of his immigrant workers). Now imagine John having to pay his staff $20 per hour + fork the cost of operation. My question to you is, “are you willing to pay $18.50 for that same sandwich and drink you use to pay $ 5.50 for?” Most of us won’t…we would probably start ZipX-ing  in all our sandwiches and drink…lol.

    It’s too late to enforce a minimum wage.  When I was in High School (1993- 1998), I predicted that Bermuda needed to introduce a Min. wage. I was laughed at my both my colleagues and teachers alike. Now after the bloom of (international business) giving away free “big salaries” to many undeserving, spoiled people with no degree of satisfaction, it’s now we want a “minimum wage”?  We are so laid back as a people, we just sit down and allow practically a decade +  of damage to pass by before we try to implement some sort of intervention.  We are always saying, “Well, If it isn’t broke then why fix it?”  As a Bermudian, may I impose another question since “it’s already broke”.  I think we should now be asking, “how can we fix it, if it can even be fixed?” or better yet, “are we willing to make the sacrifice in order to fix it?” Stop talking bullcrap as an “employee” and let’s talk business sense.   

    Every immigrant worker who arrives on this island already know how much they will be working before they get on this island (And I are not talking about the few cases of abuse highlighted as if it is the typical norm).  Don’t think immigrant workers don’t know how to do math. Remember, almost every single one of them have degrees (whether accredited, legit or not) that state that they are not as dumb as you may think.  Why did you think they took a waiter job for the bare minimum in the “low wage” $BMD to begin with if they posses a Systems Engineering degree? Because you don’t want the “little” jobs (cause many of you think you deserve better)…and they (immigrant workers) know how much they can do with what you don’t want. 

    Now all of a sudden since times are a harder, everyone wants to raise the bar on low skill job wages… because they see a need a job since they just got laid off, and still have a large and spoilt appetite for “nice things” and “quick shipping trips abroad”?  PLEASE spare me…As soon as the economy blooms again, all of this hoo-hah will be a dead horse situation and almost forgotten. Bermuda, please Let common sense prevail…please!  

    Cheap staff (no pun intended) = Cheap cost for everyone.  Thank you God for immigrant workers!! Bermuda’s already expensive… can I get lunch please get my lunch a reasonable rate thank you…before some dummy thinks of another dumb idea? 

    P.S.
    Are you aware that there are a lot of Bermudians currently who are not making “mega bucks” working non-skilled jobs?  Why haven’t we come to their defense? Why I am not surprise that we never seem to take care of our own.