Opinion: Walk Their Talk, Focusing On Solutions

January 20, 2015

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

On January 15th, President Obama launched a ‘ Working Families Agenda’ promoting Sick and Maternity Leave for American employees. It is worth noting that the United States is the only country in the world – save Papua New Guinea – which has no legal protection for employees to have paid sick and maternity leave. As a consequence some 45 million of U.S. employees in the private sector have no paid sick leave at all.

This is an outcome of political ‘Grid-lock’, which can undermine systems; especially one that is dominated by a culture of polarization. The media has provided blow-by-blow coverage of the drama that is the U.S. Congress. Of course the result of this type of circumstance is felt by the ordinary people.

Employees in Bermuda have been guaranteed both paid Sick and Maternity Leave through the Employment Act 2000, for more than a decade. We have also had guaranteed Health Insurance for all employees, for considerably longer; an entitlement which parallels ‘Obama-Care’. This might suggest that at least, in our past, we have been able to avoid the degree of ‘Grid-Lock’ evident in Washington D.C.

While the ‘Westminster System’ has been historically responsible for a fair degree of progress for civilization; there is increasing evidence that the model is falling short as societies address current challenges. When President Obama came into power, he inherited from the previous Administration, the most drastic Economic Crisis since the Great Depression.

He has been able to gradually transform those circumstances, in spite of the type of opposition he has faced in Congress. However, he recently presided over a significant loss, in the Mid-Term Elections; results that speak to the nature of the system.

It has been encouraging that Obama is turning those ‘lemons into lemonade’. Rather than reacting to the loss; he has used whatever leverage that he has and put words into action. Addressing concerns for ‘Working Families’, the President has made an Order guaranteeing 6 weeks ‘Family Leave’ for the thousands of Federal employees that come within his remit. At the same time he has re-booted the Healthy Family Bill which was first drafted in 2005, to address the concerns of the 45 million.

Here in Bermuda, it seems that our political culture has become increasing polarized. We might learn from our friends in the U.S. and avoid losing the plot.

Polarization such as that has been couched in personal attacks – attempts to demonize opponents, rather than engage each other in considered discussion geared to serve the interests of all involved. The opposition in Congress labeled the Affordable Care Act ‘Obama-Care’. I have noticed that in Bermuda, political debate has also been sinking to playing the man rather than the ball.

In a small island like ours, we surely have the collective wisdom to promote the type of engagement of all stakeholders that would assist, as we address shared challenges.

My concern aside; I do see some hopeful signs. I notice last week that Ms. Kim Wilson and Ms Leah Scott, Members of Parliament from either side of the divide, announced initiatives to assist those unemployed persons with the reinvention of their skills. While Ms Scott used private sector support, Ms Wilson used that of Workforce Development.

In an act of collaboration, Rolfe Commissiong has been using his leverage to promote efforts to involve young people in IT opportunities. His eye-witness account of the recent Hackathon staged at XL; introducing young people with a fun-approach to learning code writing/programming, will help build that movement.

Of course these 3 Parliamentarians are not the only ones who – like President Obama – are leaders prepared to walk their talk by focusing on solutions. As more claim that power, I believe our Island will move forward.

- Glenn Fubler

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