The axing of term limits could hit employment prospects for Bermudians, BPSU president Kevin Grant warned on Thursday. *File photo
The axing of term limits could hit employment prospects for Bermudians, BPSU president Kevin Grant warned on Thursday. *File photo

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1: The abolition of term limits could cut job opportunities for Bermudians, a union chief warned yesterday.

 “It it’s not handled correctly, this could cost Bermudians jobs,” says Kevin Grant, president of the white-collar Bermuda Public Services Union.

His take contrasts sharply with reaction from the business community, which has -warmly embraced the change and cited it as a stimulant for the economy and job creation.

Mr Grant pointed out that term limit abolition would not just apply to CEOs of international business, but down the line to semi-skilled roles like landscape gardeners.

He said: “It will have an effect on my members – it will have an effect on all trades. I know that this was something being contemplated, but I would have expected some sort of dialogue to take place.”

Mr Grant called for future policy proposals to be discussed by a tripartite group representing labour, business and Government – and for strong trades union representation on the Immigration Board.

Mr Grant was speaking after OBA Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy announced an end to the current six-year limit on overseas workers.

Mr Grant said: “The Minister said he had spoken with some pertinent stakeholders on this – but he has had no dialogue with us on this. The OBA Government may feel this is in the best interests of the country and we know some jobs may require contract workers. We would be blind if we didn’t see that.

“But I will say the trades unions represent about a third of the workforce – that’s a huge chunk. It’s imperative there is some kind of dialogue with us on something like this.”

There appears to be strong  disagreement on the consultation issue.

A Government spokesman said last night that two Bermuda Trades Union Congress members had been asked for comment and that both were given a copy of the consultation document, as was the BTUC president Mike Charles. BTUC representatives appointed to the Work Permit Stakeholder Group were among the stakeholders asked to provide feedback on the Impact Assessment on the Elimination of Term Limits. The spokesman added: “The Ministry was transparent and sought their views on the recommendations contained in the document as well as the policy, alternatives, that is, a suspension of the current term-limit policy for two years verses the elimination of the term limit policy entirely.”

Mr Grant said that while the Bermuda Trades Union Council (BTUC) had had two representatives on the term limits working group, it had not been clear when they had to respond to requests for comment on either suspending term limits for two years or getting rid of them altogether.

No timeline

He added: “The two said they had deliberations and they were looking for some comment, but there wasn’t an indication from these two representatives that we had to make a comment right away. The way it came across to me, they were asking for some kind of involvement from the BTUC and that there were going to be further talks – not that a decision was going to be made. There wasn’t any timeline to this. The BPSU never got the chance to reply.”

Mr Grant declined to speculate on what the precise effects of the change in policy might be.

He said: “I can’t presuppose – I would like to see whether this would have an impact. The world economy has caused international business to relocate wherever they want to.

“The ramifications that this may have on the community and Bermudians being able to be gainfully employed have not been seen yet.

“I can agree that, going forward, the country has to make some hard decisions. But let’s have tripartite discussions when we’re going to do these things.”

Mr Grant added: “There also needs to be some parity in terms of trades union representation on the Immigration Board. When it comes to a board that’s so important, and even more important now because of the change to term limits, there needs to be some representation.”

Bermuda Industrial Union leader Chris Furbert earlier this month took a swing at Government for axing BIU representation on the Immigration Board – although some labour representatives continue to sit on it.

Mr Furbert could not be contracted for comment yesterday.

Bermuda College economics lecturer Craig Simmons said that term limits were introduced to avoid the issue of long-term residents expecting the right to live permanently in Bermuda, while work permits were aimed at protecting job opportunities for Bermudians – and that policy had not changed.

He added that it was important that people from overseas did not have the expectation that they could qualify for resident status if they remained in Bermuda long enough.

It’s not a substitute

Mr Simmons said: “I take the balanced view and I would come down on side that the termination of term limits is a good thing – as long as the expectation with respect to citizenship is made clear.”

He added: “There is one thing we need to realise – non-Bermudian labour complements our Bermudian labour, it’s not a substitute for it. Unfortunately, we’ve come to see non-Bermudian labour as something in competition with Bermudians and that’s not necessarily the case.”

Mr Fahy said on Wednesday that talks with key people had been an “integral component” of the decision to end term limits.

He added: “We believe that the elimination of the policy will help spark economic growth and create employment opportunities for Bermudians.”

Mr Fahy said: “We will continue to ensure that the rights of the Bermudian worker are a priority for this Government.”

And he added: “I want to remind all Bermudians that every work permit holder is in Bermuda for a defined period based on the length of their work permit. When a one, two or three year work permit expires, the job must be advertised.

“Where a qualified Bermudian applies for the job, the employer must extend the job to the qualified Bermudian applicant.”

And he pledged that the OBA would boost training and development to prepare Bermudians for the job market, as well as introducing tougher sanctions against employers who breach work permit policies.

The move was welcomed by the Bermuda Employers’ Council, which said the change removed “a stumbling block” for international business.

BEC president Keith Jensen added: “Changing the policy on its own will not solve our economic problems.”

But he said: “It is a meaningful message to the world that we are seriously open for business. It provides confidence in Bermuda.”