File photos
UBP Leader Michael Dunkley and Senator Bob Richards, pictured, have outlined their party’s suggested alternative to the controversial Workforce Equity Act. File photo.
File photos UBP Leader Michael Dunkley and Senator Bob Richards, pictured, have outlined their party’s suggested alternative to the controversial Workforce Equity Act. File photo.
The Opposition United Bermuda Party on Thursday unveiled a slew of pre-election pledges, designed to help Bermudians from cradle to career.

The party promised to extend paid maternity leave from the current three months or less to six months, establish more day care centres and provide subsidized day care and bursaries to send at-risk students overseas for their high school education.

It was the UBP's response to Government's proposed Workforce Equity Act, which seeks to give black Bermudians greater access to managerial and executive positions in the corporate world, where they are underrepresented.

Opposition Leader Michael Dunkley told a press conference his party's proposals were designed to help people achieve success over the long-term, beginning from birth.

In contrast to the proposed Workforce Equity Act, which specifies black Bermudians, to the exclusion of all other groups, and requires companies to put in policies to enhance their opportunities for advancement, the UBP did not single out black

Bermudians.

Asked why not, UBP `Senator Bob Richards said: "We started from a position of principle. The principle is that we are against all forms of discrimination, discrimination against blacks, discrimination against women, in particular, and all other forms of discrimination. We don't agree with putting legislation in, just for black people. Nobody is going to doubt that blacks have been disadvantaged historically and the legacy of that remains with us

today."

He added that the UBP's pledge to set aside 20 per cent of all Government contracts for small businesses, would benefit black business owners, even though black people are not specifically

mentioned.

He said he was like many black Bermudians who started his own small business, an investment company, after he discovered the corporate world "was not for them".

Help for small business

He said black Bermudians were very entrepreneurial but as small business owners they face

challenges.

He said: "We believe our efforts for small business will be of more than proportional benefit to blacks."

Mr. Dunkley said: "Underlying everything we say here today is our commitment to eliminate discrimination in any form, whether it be for reasons of race, gender or national origin."

He said the PLP's commitment to ending discrimination is also sincere, but the Workforce Equity bill "is misguided and unworkable."

The UBP would institute programmes designed to help people at key stages in life, beginning before birth, with maternity leave.

The UBP would consider legislation to extend paid maternity leave to six months, set up two additional Government-run affordable day care centres for a total of three and subsidize the cost of day care up to pre-school ages.

For older students, there was the promise of free ferry and bus services, free school breakfasts, more effective career counselling and mentoring, life choices classes, and bursaries "to finance at risk students identified as those who might benefit from the experience of schooling abroad."

Students who have completed two years of schooling at the Bermuda College or overseas, would be eligible for $15,000 a year interest-free loans for their third and fourth year of education, while the Bermuda College itself would become a centre of "international business learning" and technical training would be boosted as well.

The Opposition also said "protection and resources for protection from discrimination in the workplace should be available to all."

It vowed to enhance the independence and effectiveness of the Human Rights Commission, by making it answer to Parliament, "rather than subject to the political influence and interference of any Government Minister."

There was a need for reform in immigration as well, with faster turnaround times for work permits applications, but an Immigration Appeal Board would also be established to handle complaints from Bermudians.

The UBP also said it would establish a Workforce Equity Board, but "instead of using a blunt instrument we will use this board to work on a collaborative basis to find ways to help Bermudians achieve their dreams."

An Office of Economic Empowerment would be set up to help small businesses, and tax incentives offered to business owners willing to invest in North

Hamilton.

The UBP also said Government itself could have an impact on small business by:

* Requiring 20 per cent of all government contacts go to small business;

* Providing training for small businesses in how to bid for Government contracts;

* By ensuring that Government bills to contractors are paid within 30 days to ease cash flow issues of small businesses.