Guest workers will have to carry photo I.D. cards and construction companies will have to jump through more hoops before being allowed to employ foreign workers.

Those measures were announced yesterday as Government set out plans to head off possible unemployment that could result from the economic downturn.

Best for locals

The minister responsible for immigration, Lt. Col. Burch, said he didn't want to play "Gestapo", but said the measures would help make sure Bermudians are in a job wherever possible.

Minister Burch said: This card will greatly assist the Compliance Department when they are out in the field investigating complaints that have been received of persons working without a work permit or persons working outside their job category."

He continued: "This is not designed as a Gestapo tactic but just as one is issued an I.D. card when you qualify to vote, when you reach the age of 65 and deemed a special citizen and to indicate that you have the ability to operate a vehicle - we will be issuing I.D. cards when you are issued a work permit.

"This I.D. card will feature a photo of the individual, their name, employer, job category and I.D. number. The objective is to ensure that every qualified Bermudian is employed prior to the issuing of a work permit."

Asked if the measure may send out a message that Government is less than friendly to foreigners, Col. Burch said he did not anticipate any "pushback" from international business.

He said I.D. cards will make life easier not just for Government, but for foreign companies and workers as well. For instance, guest workers could take their card with them when they fly abroad and not have to worry about taking their work permit, the minister said. I.D cards will be part of a wider automation of the work permit system that will cut out paperwork and streamline the process, he added. He could not give a timescale for the introduction of the cards, but said he was pushing the technology as a priority.

Illegal employment

Col. Burch has previously voiced Government's concern that a large number of foreigners are being employed illegally in the construction industry. Enlarging on the theme yesterday, he said the same could be said for electricians, carpenters, masons and plumbers. He said all the above sectors are now under "closer scrutiny" to weed out the illegals. He added that construction firms wishing to employ foreigners will face tighter controls. Work permits will not now be issued, he said, until close checks have been performed to see if any Bermudians are available for the positions.

He said: "What this means is that consultation must first occur with the Bermuda Industrial Union, the Department of Labour and Training and the Hustle Truck programme before Work Permits will be issued in these areas.

Additionally, we are closely monitoring all other industries where anticipated redundancies or layoffs may occur to ensure that Bermudians are the last to be displaced."