Press Conference Remarks by the Minister of Labour on Update to Re-Employment Plan
The global and local economic and social outlook remains daunting. The healthcare crisis caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic has resulted in sharp declines in economic activity. This decline has triggered alarming levels of unemployment worldwide.
While employment contractions in Bermuda’s hospitality sector are most notable, it must be realized that redundancies are occurring across all Industrial sections in a vast variety of occupational categories. Also, we are observing significant reductions in working hours and an increase in persons being laid-off.
There is no question that the immediate future will be exceptionally difficult. We should anticipate further disruptions to our labour market during our long road to recovery.
While the road ahead will be tough, the Bermuda public, confident in this Government, elected us to lead, and we will provide the leadership needed to get us back on track.
The Ministry will also continue providing social protection in the forms of Financial Assistance and the Supplementary Unemployment benefits and allocate more resources to ensure that there is a smoother transition for persons to receive benefits while we execute our jobs and re-employment strategy.
With that in mind, I can advise that to date:
The total number of application packages collected from the Department of Financial Assistance by the public was 1202.
The total number of application packages returned to the Department of Financial Assistance (submitted by the public) was 338.
Of the 338, the total number of persons approved for financial assistance was 76 or 23%.
The total number of persons approved for Supplemental Unemployment Benefit was 73 or 22%
The most frequent reasons for processing delays included:
Refusal to provide household information
Applicants assets far exceeded the eligibility requirements
If members of the public require additional assistance completing the application process, I encourage you to reach out to the Department of Financial Assistance so that an officer can assist you. We want to ensure that those persons in our community that need assistance receive it.
This Ministry is committed to moving forward with the Department of Workforce Development’s Re-employment Strategy to ensure Bermudians who are looking to work are trained, prepared, and put in contact with employers as more jobs become available. A phased approach has been developed to get Bermudians back to work—doing jobs that Bermudians can do.
Our focus is to proceed with Phase I of the Re-employment Strategy to prepare and help people find jobs. Phase 1 includes facilitating quality training and development opportunities for Bermudians to reskill, upskill, and become equipped to replace work permit holders in specific occupations including landscaping, restaurant, and cleaning industries.
We will also support training, especially for occupations within our hotel industry, so that prospective employees are fully prepared for the opening of the next Tourist season in April 2021, and the expected opening of the St. Regis.
The Government has been actively involved with industry stakeholders to support the former workers of the Southampton Princess. The Ministry has met with Hospitality Industry stakeholders and I can confirm that occupational cross-referencing has commenced and multiple career fairs are slated to take place in the near future.
Over the coming weeks, the ministry will communicate the commencement of a moratorium on specific work permit categories to create additional capacity for Bermudian employment.
I can also advise the public that the Labour Relations Section has received several concerns regarding:
The process for layoff and redundancy;
When redundancy is deemed to have taken place; and
The parameters of the work recall.
Employees have questioned being returned to work for short periods of time, working at reduced hours/pay, and whether there is a time period in which employers are required to return them to their substantive positions. In addition to, Guest workers being recalled back to work while Bermudians remain unemployed in like occupational categories.
Unfortunately, the Employment Act is silent on these matters, and some employers are using this to their advantage as they are allowed to recall workers for a short period and restart the layoff periods.
This is a disadvantage to employees as they are unable to plan ahead or sustain themselves when their employment status and hours are uncertain. If alternative employment is sought by employees it results in them forfeiting their right to severance pay. The Ministry of Labour will work to find a legislative solution to better protect employees and encourage employers to ensure that every effort is made to return laid-off Bermudians back to the workforce in an equitable manner.
I must make it clear that:
The onus is on the Employer to make every effort to contact their employee to recall them to work and these efforts should be documented. The Employer should also advise of a reasonable time for the employee to return to work;
If an employee refuses to return to work, they forfeit their right to severance pay and notice pay. If an employee does not return within the timeframe specified without reasonable cause or notice, they forfeit their right to severance pay and notice pay;
If an employer is facing financial constraints that may affect recall and hours of work, this should be communicated to the employee and a timeframe specified regarding the period alternative measures may be put in place.
Due to the current financial constraints on some employers, employees should consider reasonable recall packages that may include reduced hours.
If employers or employees have any questions or concerns, they should contact the Labour Relations Section on 2977714 and 2977716 or visit them on the 4th floor of the Dame Lois Brown-Evans Building, 58 Court Street, Hamilton.
The initiative to allow persons to work and study from Bermuda continues to bear positive fruits. As of today, we have received 519 applications and 406 1yr Residential certificates have been issued. The Government will continue to promote this initiative and welcome our guests to our shores.
Thank you. At this time, I welcome questions from the media.