Addressing the people’s needs: Premier Michael Dunkley’s responded to the People’s Campaign leaders — pictured. Click here for the full letter. *Photo by Glenn Tucker
Addressing the people’s needs: Premier Michael Dunkley’s responded to the People’s Campaign leaders — pictured. Click here for the full letter. *Photo by Glenn Tucker

In a letter to the leaders of the People’s Campaign, Premier Michael Dunkley said reaching the Government’s goals to help the people of Bermuda “remains a work in progress”.

He said the People’s Campaign can help Government achieve its goals as it is for “equality, jobs and justice” but “It’s also about working together”.

In Premier Dunkley’s letter to BIU president Chris Furbert, Rev Nicholas Tweed and BPSU president Jason Hayward, he wrote: “The Government’s priority... is to restore the jobs people need to provide for their loved ones.  

“We live in a free market society where people apply their education, their skills and their work ethic to earn their way forward.  

“Equal opportunity is the key. We do not believe society-wide job entitlement that your Manifesto calls for serves the best interest of the individual or that of Bermuda, which must compete with the rest of the world for the business and investment all of us, in one way or another, need to survive.”

He added the government exists “to support the lifetime ambitions of Bermudians and their needs in ways that come under the responsibilities of the various Cabinet ministries”.

He pointed to the National Training Plan as one example of this.

“It aims to reduce reliance on overseas labour by carefully considering the future needs of the economy and appropriately training and developing Bermudians for suitable job placement.

He said another example was the launch of the online Job Board by the Department of Workforce Development last November launched an online Job Board..

He said: “The DWD is currently working with the Department of Immigration to have the Job Board include expiry dates for all positions held by work permit holders.”

He said an important principle is “to make sure all employers are held accountable to the same standards so that all employees are treated fairly.

“Just last year the Government passed legislation cracking down on employers and employees who abuse Immigration laws and increasing penalties for work permit violations.

“The system, in other words, exists to protect people from abuse.”

Premier Dunkley said workers have plenty of rights in Bermuda such as the “right to freely assemble, particularly the right to form or belong to a trade union or other associations for the protection of his interests. This right is further protected by the Trade Union Act and Trade Union Regulations, including a provision that makes it an offence for an employer to interfere in the exercise of a worker’s freedom to associate, or to refuse to hire a worker because of his membership”.

He said Government has been focusing “to expand opportunity by restoring confidence in Bermuda as a place to do business.  This work can range from tax relief to induce job-creating decisions to the promotion of development opportunities such as the East End hotel site.

Support

“In terms of helping disadvantaged people, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) has a variety of programmes to support small businesses.  Its loan programmes enable it to act as guarantor for small business loans, including businesses that do not have enough security or collateral. In 2013, BEDC loan guarantees supported 57 businesses.”

Premier Dunkley added the “BEDC has also supported unemployed or under-employed Bermudians who’ve turned to entrepreneurial endeavours to make ends meet.  These necessity entrepreneurs” have received planning and management advice as well as loan support.  During the 2013/14 fiscal year, the BEDC met with 762 people seeking help and advice.

Last October, the BEDC met with Capital G Bank, now Clarien, and launched a micro loan programme “to provide small businesses with quick access to financing for the purchase of goods to generate income for their business.  The Home Affairs Ministry is approaching other banks to extend this programme”. 

Full letter

 

 

 

                                                                                                            26th June 2014

 

 

Rev. Nicholas Tweed,

Mr. Jason Hayward,

Mr. Chris Furbert

 

Dear Gentlemen:

 

I want to first thank you for making your views known to the Government through your demonstrations, your manifesto and the conversations I’ve had with you since becoming Premier.

 

Advocacy such as yours promotes government accountability and that is always a good thing.

 

To further our dialogue, I asked my Cabinet colleagues to review your People’s Manifesto.

 

The first point they made clear, and with which I agree, is that there is no difference between the goals of equality, jobs and justice articulated in the Manifesto and those of the Government.

 

Where differences may emerge is in the approaches taken to change the realities that give rise to your concerns.

 

For the record, the One Bermuda Alliance was elected, first and foremost, to repair an economy that was rapidly failing the needs of Bermudians – most emphatically in the unprecedented number of people who had become unemployed in previous years and those who had seen pay-cheques become insufficient to meet the needs of their families.

 

Our task was made doubly challenging by the fact that government finances were in a shambles.  Interest charges on public debt were costing more than $100 million a year and the government’s operating deficit was careening out of control.  In 2013 alone, government spent some $330 million more than it took in – a number that was years in the making.  The situation was unsustainable and dangerous.

 

These negative circumstances are unavoidable realities that severely constrain the capacity of the Government to provide services, maintain operations and meet people’s needs as they arise.

 

To address the situation and make possible the ideals we share, the Government adopted a two-track strategy to grow the economy and to curtail and control government spending.

 

Our aim has been to rebuild the economic foundation and stabilize public finances in ways that restore confidence, opportunity and hope – generating tangible benefits to the people.

 

As I said in my televised address to the Island last week:

 

“Our success cannot be defined just by growth in business and new investment, but it is important to understand that they are essential for the jobs and opportunities people need to support their families.

 

“We will therefore continue stimulating the economy wherever we can because of its potential to improve the lives and prospects of more people more quickly than anything else.”

 

That is the main thrust of our approach and we make no apologies for it.  We are confident we are moving Bermuda in the right direction, toward economic recovery, expanding opportunity and full employment for all willing, able-bodied Bermudians.

 

Signs of progress are growing – with new company formations, rising retail and real estate sales, positive action in hotel developments and increases in Planning applications.

 

But we also know that recovery is not happening fast enough.  Hardship remains and frustration spreads, adding fuel to long-held grievances of inequality, injustice and mistrust that is reflected in your Manifesto.

 

The Government wants nothing more than to improve the lives of Bermudians, but we are realistic enough to know that for many Bermudians the sincerity of that commitment will only be accepted through deeds and actions that make a positive difference in their lives.

 

That’s fine by us.  We will keep it real and realistic.  We will communicate progress and lack of progress.  And we will not mislead people into thinking there are magic answers to solving deeply entrenched societal and economic problems.

 

The recovery Bermuda desperately needs and wants is a work in progress, carried forward every day in myriad ways by the Government that was duly elected by the people in December 2012.

 

This work, supported by thousands of public servants, is advancing many of the resolutions enumerated in your Manifesto. Let me be specific:

 

In Education,

 

Post-secondary education for Bermudians is supported through Bermuda Government scholarships, Teacher Training Awards, Mature Student Awards, Further Education Awards and interest-free student loans.

 

This year’s $1 million allocation for scholarships and awards is about $300,000 less than last year – the result of Government-wide cutbacks to bring budgets into line with economic and fiscal realities.

 

Other initiatives supporting post-secondary education continue:

 

  • The Career Pathways programme, now in its second year, provides S3 and S4 students with opportunities to develop academic, technical and workplace skills in preparation for working life beyond the classroom.
  • Since January, the Bermuda Insurance Institute has recruited seven students from Berkeley Institute and Cedarbridge Academy to enroll in the General Insurance Certification Programme. Successful students will achieve an Associate in General Insurance by the time they graduate senior school in 2015.
  • The Education Minister is investigating a re-vamp of the National Education Guarantee Scheme to provide students with additional options for post-secondary education funding. He is also starting talks with local banks to increase scholarship funding.

In taxation matters,

 

There are no changes to the system under consideration, certainly not income tax that your Manifesto appears to call for.  The Government will continue to offer tax inducements to stimulate job-creating activities such as payroll tax relief for the hiring of unemployed Bermudians and for construction industry projects.


 

In Health,

 

The Government continues to make good quality health care accessible and affordable to all.

 

Bermuda’s health system currently relies primarily on Health Insurance, Government subsidies for vulnerable populations and out-of-pocket payments to fund healthcare treatment.

 

Health insurance provides coverage for Standard Hospital Benefit (care provided primarily at the hospital) and supplemental benefits (specialist care, overseas care, and care outside the hospital).

 

The Government sets the premium for Standard Hospital Benefit and this year the premium actually decreased by $23.99 or 7.4%.

 

Government is currently reviewing the benefits provided by Standard Hospital Benefit with a view to expanding those benefits to provide better access to care for everyone, especially those who have the greatest need.

 

Although health insurance is the primary source of funding for health care, insurance still needs to be paid for.

 

For those who are self-employed, on Financial Assistance and/or the elderly, the Government provides two low cost health insurance plans which provide coverage for Standard Hospital Benefit and supplemental benefits.  These include dental care, eye care, specialist care, care provided by primary care physicians, overseas care and, in the case of FutureCare, prescription drug coverage.

 

In an effort to ensure that these plans are affordable and accessible, the premium for the HIP plan remains unchanged at $390 per month.  In 2013, the premiums for the FutureCare plan were consolidated to correct an inequity in the premiums, and in 2014 the premium was increased by just $10 per month to $450 per month.  Anyone who receives Financial Assistance is also provided with HIP or FutureCare as part of their benefits.

 

Government subsidies provide 100% of the cost of hospital care for children, 100% of the cost of hospital care for the indigent, and 70% of the cost of hospital care for persons who are between 65 and 74 and 80% for those who are 75 years old or older.  In the 2014/15 fiscal year, the Government has set aside $109.5 million to cover the cost of care for these vulnerable populations.

 

In addition, Government provides a $37.3 million grant to Bermuda Hospitals Board for the operation of the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute.

 

In Bermuda what is urgently lacking is preventive and early intervention services to the underinsured adult population.  In order to begin addressing this gap, the Department of Health operated a “Beyond Wellness Clinic” which provided services to the uninsured and underinsured populations who were referred for chronic disease management.

 

The recommendations put forward in the Beyond Wellness Report are being reviewed with a view to determining how best to implement a community-based, collaborative care model.

 

Although it is important to ensure that health care is accessible, efforts continue to reduce the cost of health care, not just for the individual, but also for the system.

 

In terms of the justice system,

 

Everyone is subject to equal treatment under the law, with Legal Aid provided for those who cannot afford legal representation.  We are confident the system is administered in a manner that is fair and just, and where people believe they’ve been mistreated, there are avenues to appeal for justice.

 

In terms of fair opportunity in the workplace,

 

The Government’s priority, as I’ve said, is to restore the jobs people need to provide for their loved ones.  We live in a free market society where people apply their education, their skills and their work ethic to earn their way forward.  Equal opportunity is the key.  We do not believe society-wide job entitlement that your Manifesto calls for serves the best interest of the individual or that of Bermuda, which must compete with the rest of the world for the business and investment all of us, in one way or another, need to survive.

 

Bermuda governments, nevertheless, exist to support the lifetime ambitions of Bermudians and their needs in ways that come under the responsibilities of the various Cabinet ministries.

 

The National Training Plan, announced in May, is a case in point.  It aims to reduce reliance on overseas labour by carefully considering the future needs of the economy and appropriately training and developing Bermudians for suitable job placement.

 

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) in November launched an online Job Board to help Bermudians find jobs.  The DWD is currently working with the Department of Immigration to have the Job Board include expiry dates for all positions held by work permit holders.

 

A core objective of the Home Affairs Ministry is to make sure all employers are held accountable to the same standards so that all employees are treated fairly.

 

Just last year the Government passed legislation cracking down on employers and employees who abuse Immigration laws and increasing penalties for work permit violations.

 

The system, in other words, exists to protect people from abuse.

 

In terms of worker rights,

 

The Bermuda Constitution protects the individual’s right to freely assemble, particularly the right to form or belong to a trade union or other associations for the protection of his interests.

 

This right is further protected by the Trade Union Act and Trade Union Regulations, including a provision that makes it an offence for an employer to interfere in the exercise of a worker’s freedom to associate, or to refuse to hire a worker because of his membership.

 

The Department of Workforce Development is responsible for ensuring that all worker rights to form or join unions are maintained.

 

In terms of economic opportunity,

 

The Government’s has been working on a broad front to expand opportunity by restoring confidence in Bermuda as a place to do business.  This work can range from tax relief to induce job-creating decisions to the promotion of development opportunities such as the East End hotel site.

 

In terms of helping disadvantaged people, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) has a variety of programmes to support small businesses.  Its loan programmes enable it to act as guarantor for small business loans, including businesses that do not have enough security or collateral.  In 2013, BEDC loan guarantees supported 57 businesses.

 

In the past few years, the BEDC has also supported unemployed or under-employed Bermudians who’ve turned to entrepreneurial endeavours to make ends meet.  These “necessity entrepreneurs” have received planning and management advice as well as loan support.  During the 2013/14 fiscal year, the BEDC met with 762 people seeking help and advice.

 

In October, the BEDC in partnership with Clarien Bank launched a Micro Loan programme to provide small businesses with quick access to financing for the purchase of goods to generate income for their business.  The Home Affairs Ministry is approaching other banks to extend this programme.

 

 

 

In terms of equal rights,

 

The Government amended the Human Rights Act in 2013 to prohibit discrimination based on age in relation to the provision of goods, services, facilities and accommodation.

 

The Ministry of Community, Culture and Sports has reported that age discrimination in employment remains a serious concern.  It is currently investigating the impact on pensions and retirement if age discrimination protection is extended to employment. Its research will provide options to help us move forward.

 

In terms of stewardship of public property,

 

The Government agrees with the need to protect the assets of the people.  As trustees, the Government must do whatever is prudent for the best interest of the trust.  If turning physical assets into cash helps pay down the national debt or reduce the government’s operating deficit, then the selling of assets can benefit the overall value of the trust. Privatization is not necessarily bad, as you imply.  These are perilous times and Government must have all options on the table in order to protect the solvency of Bermuda.

 

In terms of helping people,

 

The Government has worked with the business community to ease cost-of-living pressures on people.  This work will continue beyond what we have already achieved through:

 

  • 10% Wednesday food price reductions
  • Belco’s new fee structure that will see thousands pay less for power, and
  • Telecommunications deregulation that has seen big savings for Internet and cell phone services.

 

Government support is also extended to people in need; most notably with the $46.9 million allocated this year for Financial Assistance – a record total that reflects the extent of our economic challenges and the serious hardships facing our people. This money supports seniors and people with disabilities and helps families to put food on the table and pay for child day care.

 

****


 

As I said at the start of this letter, we agree on the fundamentals for all citizens – equality, jobs and justice.

 

Against these goals, Bermuda remains a work in progress.

 

The one thing people can demand of their government is honest, hard work to correct injustices, ensure equal treatment and to create conditions that help rather than hinder them.

 

This Government is pursuing priorities and applying available resources to bring relief to people as fast as possible and to building a better country in the long run.

 

We were elected to a five-year term, and when that term comes to a close Bermuda will be a fairer, more inclusive place to live, with a strong economy, more transparent government and more effective services to help people move forward.

 

Problems big and small will no doubt remain, but our hope is to help Bermudians to work together more effectively and to trust more in one another.

 

The People’s Campaign can help us achieve that.  It’s about equality, jobs and justice.  It’s also about working together.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

The Hon. Michael H. Dunkley, JP, MP

Premier and Minister of National Security