Full Text: Burch On Construction Work Permits

August 18, 2010

Minister of Labour, Home Affairs and Housing Colonel David Burch addressed work force and immigration concerns in the construction industry, saying that nine construction companies have been “red-carded” after receiving information that a master mason applied to ten different construction companies and only one called him back. The nine companies in question have all come under greater scrutiny, with their Work Permit applications [new or renewal] being put on hold and must be approved personally by Colonel Burch.

The full text of the Colonel’s statement follows below:

Good morning and thank you for joining me:

You will know that over the past 18 months closer scrutiny of Work Permit applications generally but specifically in the construction and landscaping sectors has been applied in order to ensure the continued employment of Bermudians.

You will also know that the Department of Labour and Training has engaged in a variety of initiatives to upgrade workers skills during this period so that they are well positioned to assume those new jobs that will materialise once the economy recovers.

Beginning with the ‘Reinvent Yourself Expo’ in April last year followed by the very successful Taking it to the People series of forums, held across the Island last summer, and in December last year “The Employee of the Future” Forum at the Berkeley Institute to help members of the Bermuda workforce to become better, more employable, more effective, productive and retainable employees both today and in the future.

Since last year Companies in the domestic arena have been required to consult with the BIU, the Department of Labour & Training and the Hustle Truck before submitting work permit applications in these categories for consideration by the Department of Immigration. I am pleased to report that the coordination effort between these three entities and the Department of Immigration has led to improved over sight of these types of jobs.

That coordination notwithstanding, the challenging economic environment has seen a decrease of employment opportunities in Bermuda and concurrently, there must also be a reduction in the number of work permits issued. Sadly some employers have attempted to exploit this situation.

Clearly, there is a balance that must be struck in the application of any policy to protect Bermudian jobs while also supporting business. We have examples of all sides – the good, the bad and the ugly – it therefore falls to me to create that balance.

The Department of Immigration has recently received a considerable number of complaints from various sources regarding the construction industry in particular but business in general and their reluctance to hire Bermudians. As one example we have received information on a master mason who had applied to 10 different construction companies and only one called him back. Happily the firm who did – hired him and are quite happy with his craftsmanship.

We have been provided with the names and adverts of all those companies where he applied. They have been red-carded – which means all their Work Permit applications – new or renewal are on hold and must be approved by me.

Clearly these firms are not serious about hiring Bermudians and as such – they cannot expect the cooperation of the Department of Immigration. In each case a Company profile of the firm has been requested – so that we can see how many staff they employ and the breakdown of Bermudian or non-Bermudian.

May I also add that similar concerns have been raised as it relates to lay-offs and the sub-contracting of non-Bermudian workers to other local companies in the construction industry. These firms are also now subject to closer scrutiny.

Needless to say – there are exceptions to this type of behaviour and there are employers who have hired unskilled workers and are training them.

The social impact on this country and Government services cannot be minimised when people lose their jobs – there is an increased strain on all the helping agencies. The stress impacts on health. An unhealthy population puts stress on the health care system which increases the cost of health care in the country.

I urge employers to not only look at their bottom line when deciding whether to hire Bermudians or not, but to also look at the social impact to the entire community of displacing Bermudians with foreign workers.

Of course there are also both types of Bermudians as well – and while I will not support those whose work ethic is lacking – other than to ensure the Department of Labour and Training provide them with the opportunity to improve – I cannot continue to allow Work Permits to be approved in these areas while Bermudians are not even being given an opportunity at jobs.

As such, effective immediately, all applications in these categories are on hold pending a full investigation of each case. Concurrently, those applications suitable for processing will be reviewed and approved by me and the Appeals team.

I have asked the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Binns to arrange a meeting with the Construction Association of Bermuda as soon as possible. It would be correct to say that there is a moratorium on all applications for masons, carpenters, landscape gardeners and cleaners until I am satisfied that Bermudians are not being deliberately thwarted in the workplace.

I consider these draconian steps but in this current economy, it cannot be business as usual and employers have a greater responsibility to ensure that Bermudians are put back to work.

It is not the desire of Government or the Ministry to see a business shut down, wind up, cease to operate or not be profitable.

To the contrary, this Government has launched numerous initiatives aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship; new business start ups; educating existing and new business owners; assisting new businesses and small businesses with access to financing; assisting new businesses with bidding for jobs; the list is endless.

However, at the same time we have a duty to protect the interests of Bermudians, who must be given the first opportunity for jobs. We are here to assist employers with finding good employees and running successful, law abiding businesses, in a spirit of fairness in industrial relations, which creates win-win situations for all.

As such, the Department of Immigration will continue the close liaison with the BIU, the Department of Labour & Training and the Hustle Truck – those entities charged with securing jobs for Bermudians and work with business to a mutually satisfactory outcome.

Thank you.

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