Column: BPSU President On Reducing Salaries

April 28, 2020 | 16 Comments

BPSU Armell Thomas Bermuda March 2020[Written by BPSU President Armell Thomas]

I read with interest the former One Bermuda Alliance Finance Minister’s call for a cut of Public Officers’ salaries.

While Bob Richards lobbies hard for the pay cuts of middle-class workers, one must not forget his previous propensity for utilizing taxpayers’ dollars for the benefit of rich, privately owned companies. It was, after all, Mr. Richards who fought relentlessly for the now infamous Morgan’s Point guarantee agreements which ultimately cost the taxpayer an estimated $180 million due to default. Let us also not forget that Mr. Richards and the former administration contractually obligated Bermuda’s taxpayers to a minimum revenue guarantee for the Aecon airport deal; a guarantee determined by air passenger traffic. The public awaits to learn how much this guarantee will cost taxpayers due the ongoing shutdown of the Island’s airport.

In light of Bob Richards’ track record, there should be a cautionary note to the financial guidance he has offered to the current administration.

It is worthwhile reminding Mr. Richards that in 2014, Bermuda’s Public Service Unions made an unprecedented step by submitting to his administration recommendations for approximately $65 million in cost savings; many of these suggestions came directly from public service employees. Unfortunately, the OBA administration failed to implement many of the Union’s recommendations.

Reactionary, panic-driven calls for across-the-board cuts are not the answer and have been proven time and time again, both locally and across the globe, to be not only ineffective and inefficient, they can also be very damaging to both service levels and have far-reaching implications on a country’s economy.

The role of Bermuda’s Public Service is to serve society and provide a variety of services including healthcare, defense and security, law and order, education, physical infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, revenue collection, etc. Without Public Service employees, Bermuda simply cannot function. Public Officers are professionals dedicated to serving Bermuda; many of whom have taken on additional responsibilities for years without any additional compensation due to on-going budgetary constraints and hiring freezes.

Public Service employees are taxpayers; cuts to their salaries will negatively impact payroll tax revenues. Public Officers are also the largest employee consumer group on the Island; they are major supporters of local businesses including retail stores, restaurants, gyms, salons, barbers, daycare, etc. Are these entities prepared for the consequences associated with a cut in Public Officers’ disposable income? Public Officers are tenants and have rents to pay; they have mortgage obligations. Are Bermuda’s landlords and financial institutions prepared to offer concessions to mitigate against these cuts?

There must be shared sacrifice and a re-balancing of the burden; this is even more important now given the economic crisis the country is facing as the inequities in Bermuda have been magnified. While Mr. Richards called for a pay-cut for Public Officers, it was not surprising that he did not also call for private sector companies and individuals who can afford to do so, take a similar cut by paying an increase in their taxes.

I will take this opportunity to reiterate that the protection of workers, and in particular our Members, is the Union’s priority. This, however, will not prevent us from working with the Government. In fact, in a press statement dated March 17, I reminded the Government of the importance of collaboration with its Union partners, especially during times of national crisis. On March 26, I called for the Government to bring together a taskforce of the Island’s Unions and employers to help co-ordinate the national effort against the impact of the pandemic. The Government recently announced that it will be forming an Economic Advisory Committee to seek advice from “key stakeholders in the Bermuda economy and community”. The BPSU is awaiting confirmation that Bermuda’s Trade Unions will be invited to be a part of this initiative.

In another press statement on April 2, I publicly stated that the BPSU supports the Premier’s plea to Public Officers that they must “move beyond the barriers of their job in order to provide service to the people of Bermuda” and “make every effort to ensure those who need the services provided by Government can receive them.”

The BPSU recognises that the economic challenges facing Bermuda as a result of the pandemic are daunting, and as our track record will show, we have always been willing to collaborate with Government on initiatives that will ensure an efficient and effective civil service.

Given that Bob Richards no longer speaks on behalf of the Government, I call on the Government to be clear on its expectations and benchmarks regarding its revamping of its 2020/21 budget in light of the impact of Covid-19. The BPSU cannot agree to any austerity measures until we understand the current financial picture and how the Bermuda Government plans to claw its way out of this downturn. Once this has been established, collectively the BPSU and the Government can work on a way forward that is in the best interest of all.

The BPSU will remain committed to encouraging our Members to provide quality public services while at the same time defending public service employees against unwarranted attacks on their livelihood.

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Comments (16)

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  1. Ringmaster says:

    So the BPSU identified savings of $65 million in 2014. If the OBA ignored them why didn’t the PLP use those savings in 2018 and 2019 rather than hire more public workers and increase debt? Not paying into the sinking fund for 2 years has also caused more pain. Over 4 years over $200 million could have been set aside, but no, the waste and spend party continued.

    Bermuda may not have much say in what expenses need to be cut when lenders set their terms for more money, and if the IMF get involved then serious cuts will be imposed. Barbados is a good example of that.

  2. sandgrownan says:

    Well that’s a whole pile of stupid right there. Along with the rabble rouser Hayward yesterday, the battle lines are being drawn. It’s the standard Union “our way or the highway” response.

    What this person fails to admit, is that the private sector is already making shared sacrifice while the bloated civil service continues unaffected. The economy was in a tailspin before COVID-19, and this was directly as a result of the largesse and mismanagement of successive PLP administrations, ably supported by the Unions.

    Nothing like taking the opportunity to peddle out the same old tired inaccuracies about Morgan’s Point and the airport eh?

  3. bluenose says:

    Are the Bus Operators still getting full pay?

  4. bluenose says:

    “There must be shared sacrifice” What are you waiting for then?

  5. Jack Archer says:

    this is pure deflection and a terrible attempt at justification for not taking a pay cut. it is drivel.

    This: There must be shared sacrifice and a re-balancing of the burden; this is even more important now given the economic crisis the country is facing as the inequities in Bermuda have been magnified.

    But nowhere does he suggest what the shared sacrifice should be, indeed he has the gall to say this: it was not surprising that he did not also call for private sector companies and individuals who can afford to do so, take a similar cut by paying an increase in their taxes.

    Has he not read of people taking pay cuts? has he not seen read about the thousands of people claiming the $500 help from Government? How many of those are from the public sector and how many from the private sector?

    And paying more taxes?! What – just to help your members keep their pay? and why are you playing politics?!

    This guy is not on this planet.

  6. After all is said and done, I don’t think it’s worth getting caught up in the rhetoric that the former minister is proposing to a degree, but I will agree with the fact that all of the Government sector needs to seriously accept pay cuts, especially those who sit in the highest brackets of the pay scale and this way by the time you get to the middle class workers of Government, they wont have to be hit so hard.

    My greatest concern is the affordability of all of our residents from this point forward, for at least the next 12 months following the opening up of our Country, and how many will be able to catch up because not all landlords are as forgiving or merciful to their tenants, not to mention all other commitments that are being still forced on people, such as nursery schools that are demanding forms of payments to secure the place of little ones, who have not been in nursery for almost going on two months.

    The cut’s across the board with Government who should lead by example, with our Civil servants taking the biggest cut, this rubbish to defend ignorance at this point is not a good thing, and I’m not attacking the messenger, but we better get our priorities right, because Bermuda was not in the best shape before Covid19 and we are definitely going to experience many short falls for some time to come, and now with the threat of a food shortage State side, Lord only knows what lays ahead for us.

    Finally what all Unions should be fighting for now more then ever, is to force the issue with the Government to seriously look at sending many of our guest workers back home to their countries, and that is not an easy decision to make, because we have a very hard working dedicated bunch of foreign workers who treasure their jobs in Bermuda, but how can we protect their interest while our very own suffrage is beyond the limits of anything we have ever experienced.

    In Closing I to feel like Mr. Thomas, because Mr. Richards has a serious nerve to speak, especially after so much that happen during his time in office,but if it had come from a more honest and reliable source it would have been more readily accepted, but sadly some of what Mr. Richards had to say, is very transparent and real. Bermudians don’t get caught up in the Government or past administration Rhetoric, but let’s face where we re and be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, we either all move forward together, or we all sink together.

  7. wahoo says:

    Sorry mate but the run is over you and yours are gonna have to take it on the chin like everyone else. Our civil service has always been over sized and over paid this pandemic has only sped up the inevitable.

  8. Trickle says:

    So just to confirm, the core tenet of the union leader’s argument is that trickle down economics are the best way forward?

  9. aceboy says:

    So you are saying no. Gotcha.

  10. Sandgrownan says:

    Why are civil servants the largest employee consumer group? Answer that? Why do we need so many?

  11. Joe Bloggs says:

    “There must be shared sacrifice and a re-balancing of the burden; this is even more important now given the economic crisis the country is facing as the inequities in Bermuda have been magnified. While Mr. Richards called for a pay-cut for Public Officers, it was not surprising that he did not also call for private sector companies and individuals who can afford to do so, take a similar cut by paying an increase in their taxes.”

    Ok, now here is the rub. My counterparts employed by government actually earn more than I do in private industry and they have final salary pensions, not the defined contribution pension I have.

    And now the Union representing those civil servants wants to increase taxes on me and leave the civil servants’ pay alone? Not unless you want to kill the last vestiges of private industry in Bermuda!

  12. charter says:

    This is maddening. The private sector should pay more taxes in order to support the civil service even though they are getting paid and most of us aren’t?
    Hello, reality?!?!

  13. Dave says:

    You Sir, are seriously out to lunch!

  14. Vortex says:

    Well he would say that wouldn’t he.

    Lame and unrealistic leadership. To say let’s see how bad is pathetic.

    I can tell you it will be very bad, very bad indeed, and many will be jobless if you don’t start giving a little now.

  15. Now Ya Nice says:

    Really? His closing statement was….The BPSU will remain committed to encouraging our Members to provide quality public services.

    I trust he hasn’t had to wait on the bus or ferry in the last 20 years.

  16. Up D Hill says:

    All that you say has nothing to do with Covid 19. Stop ya noise and take a pay cut like the private sector or face more ruin (AGAIN) for Bermuda!!!!

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