Martha Myron

Frustration and despair at delinquent employers

  • Taking action: readers have sent messages to Moneywise detailing the difficulties encountered as they try to recover missing pension benefits (File photograph)

This is the last in the three-part series of review, comments and responses to the Bermuda National Pension Amendment Act 2019.

Moneywise thanks the many who read the first two parts of this series last month, and then took time to write and share their retirement pension issues.

Most of the messages I received centred on recovering missing benefits, especially pension contributions. I saw measured reasoning, but more frustration, anger, and some despair that they will never be made whole of those monies. Some people were already redundant, while others expressed anxiety about their financial futures.

The process of determining that their pension contributions had not been made, and where and how to report this to the appropriate governmental authorities, trying to obtain some assurance of action to collect the missing pensions had left many exhausted and stymied at facing legal and bureaucratic obstacles.

The majority comments fell in these categories:

• Communications and confusion was evident in how to proceed with inquiries for both the Bermuda National Pension Scheme and the Bermuda Government Old Age Contributory Pension Fund.

These are both pensions, but also different: the first, BNPS is a defined contribution plan with 5 per cent of employees salary contributed and equally matched by the employer. Ten per cent each month should be deposited and invested with an approved pension provider. The employee chooses the type and amount of investment risk and type of fund. The BNPS is overseen by the Bermuda Pension Commission. These articles focused on Amendments 2019 of this Act.

The second, BOACP, is administered by Government’s Social Insurance department. The employer and employee contribute (as of today’s schedule) $35.92 each, weekly. At retirement age, an annuity is calculated, the amount depending on a prerequired number of contribution years. No calculation as to how the final pension payment is made is listed on government websites.

Further, unlike the BNPS, there is no choice of individual investment funds, or lump sum payouts. Exceptions are for expats leaving the island, and local individuals who have not contributed sufficient sums in earnings years to qualify for said government pension. They receive back only contributed amounts — with no interest earned.

• Insufficient or no information available on website.

• Access made, complaint filed, but no response. Calls, e-mails, go unanswered or to voice mail. When authorities are reached and return calls promised, there is no action.

• Unclear or indifferent answers. Finding another job was suggested.

• Frustration and feelings of wading through a morass to get answers on when or if their monies will be returned.

• Paycheques skipped or not paid at all, echoing Royal Gazette articles of earlier in September.

• Totally inadequate payroll accounting methods, eg no breakout of pensions, health insurance, payroll tax, or cumulative contributions reporting.

• Implied or explicit intimidation. Individuals are afraid to complain, fearing complete loss of a job (even at reduced wages) in an uncertain economy.

• Inadequate enforcement measures by the Government against those who are seriously delinquent in employee benefits. The response received by complainers in some cases was that the perpetrator is on a payment plan — that is very low monetarily compared to the amount of the infractions. “It is so depressing, I will never get my pension back,” stated a close-to-retirement person.

• Hardship withdrawal regulations. Bermudians (not an expat) working abroad are not eligible for any hardship withdrawal of an individual’s Bermuda National Pension. They have to be living in Bermuda to make such a withdrawal.

Wasn’t the hardship regulation put into place to assist those having temporary trouble making ends meet? How could it not apply to a Bermudian — made redundant locally — going abroad to find work? I have no answer.

Commercial advantage. The Amendment to the Act 2019 was read for the second time in Parliament on September 27. At press time it was unclear that it was passed into law.

One financial change to employers from the original act states that “all private business employers will now provide The Bermuda National Pension to all employees, both expats, and Bermudians because it was felt that those employers who did not currently provide the benefit to expats in their employ had an unfair commercial advantage.

Guess who probably has the greatest commercial advantage?

Delinquent employers whose labour overhead costs are anywhere from 15 and 30 per cent lower have a distinct monetary advantage (depending on how you calculate the overhead benefit costs).

Ethical, honest employers are carrying the financial freight for everyone.

Is that fair or equitable? Some have subtly made their decision — by seriously downsizing in Bermuda and relocating business to more amenable jurisdictions.

PostScript at Government. Prosecutions for Delinquent Employers.

As at November 17, 2016, Government Social Insurance website stated that there was “$14 million of unpaid Social Insurance contributions and $47 million of unpaid Payroll Tax due from delinquent employers.”

Link: https://www.gov.bm/articles/prosecutions-delinquent-employers

The Bermuda National Pension Scheme delinquencies are not even addressed, but extrapolating the financial volume of unpaid social insurance, the Bermuda National Pension Scheme unpaid amounts could be significantly higher.

Government notes that they have utilised the various government entities, in particular the Debt Enforcement Unit of the Attorney-General’s Chambers, for the recovery of these unpaid tax arrears. And have further decided to pursue these delinquent companies in civil courts and criminal courts.

Again, no mention of how the Bermuda National Pension Scheme (encompassing far larger contributions each month) delinquencies enforcements are being addressed, or will be enforced.

Almost three years later, has there been progress in reducing these liabilities?

Moneywise thanks you in advance for your criticisms, and comments and await your responses, dear readers.

Note: all communication to Moneywise is completely confidential.

Martha Harris Myron CPA CFP JSM: Masters of Law — international tax and financial services. Dual citizen: Bermudian/US. Pondstraddler Life, financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders and their globally mobile connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Finance columnist to The Royal Gazette, Bermuda. All proceeds earned from this column go to The Reading Clinic. Contact: martha.myron@gmail.com