Bermuda has become known in Jamaica as the "the last slave frontier" as employers continue to exploit guest workers.

Government yesterday said "adult bullying is alive and well" after an influx of guest workers spoke out against workplace abuse.

Labour Minister David Burch said he was "shocked and appalled" after opening "the floodgates" to more than a dozen complaints in just over a week.

The complaints include the ill-treatment of workers, non-payment of salaries and medical/social insurance even though money is deducted from pay cheques.

Bermuda's reputation is now on the line as Minister Burch revealed the island had been named "the last slave frontier" in Jamaica because of how badly workers are treated.

The greatest offenders are Jamaican-Bermudian employers who "continue to discriminate against their own countrymen."

As a result of the complaints, the Ministry of Labour, Home Affairs and Housing is now refusing to issue work permits to nine offending companies.

The businesses concerned are in the construction and retail sector.

Minister Burch said: "My simple call has yielded great responses from the guest workers in our community. But I cannot be proud of such a response.

"The level and severity of the complaints are so distressing that I can only imagine the nightmare the recipients of such abuse are living under.

"It is sad to say, but adult bullying is alive and well in Bermuda."

In January, Minister Burch publicly urged guest workers to "do the right thing" and report any unfair treatment to the Ministry.

He recently met members of the Jamaican community and repeated his appeal for them to register employment complaints.

He said companies were creating "atmospheres of fear and intimidation" where people were suffering verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

He believes employers feel they can abuse their workers because they know there are limited opportunities for movement to other jobs.

At a press conference yesterday Minister Burch said he was aware of at least two hair salons that recruited Jamaicans on three-month temporary work permits, but fired them and ordered them home before their permit expired.

Minister Burch said he "would not allow it to continue" and issued a stark warning to companies "operating without any conscience."

He said: "Employers, if you are not treating your employees - especially when they are your fellow Jamaicans, with the respect and dignity they deserve - check your behaviour now before you find yourself in the hot seat.

Behaviour 'will not be tolerated'

"This sort of behaviour will not be tolerated against any worker in this country, be they Bermudian or a guest worker.

"It's just not right, these companies can't abuse the system and abuse Bermuda's good name."

The Ministry has sent 'natural justice' letters to the businesses concerned giving them the chance to respond. But until they rectify the situations no new work permits will be issued and work permits that expire will not be renewed.

Minister Burch said: "I am not going to sit idly and allow this to happen.

"Intimidating workers doesn't sound like the way to increase productivity to me."

Minister Burch says if there was no improvement he wouldn't hesitate to name and shame the wrong doers.

"I consider this abuse restricted to a few unscrupulous employers - but just one is too many, he said.

"I have one message - unless your business is conducted in a proper manner - you will not be in business in Bermuda."

He added: "These companies are not going to be in business much longer if they carry on. Bermudian workers are not going to put up with their nonsense."

Any guest worker wanting to report abuse should call the Department of Labour and Training.

Bermudian workers in white-collar workplaces who feel non-Bermudians are "trying to chase you off your jobs and off your island" are also encouraged to file a complaint.