Independence for Bermuda should be high on the list of priorities for the Progressive Labour Party after its landslide election victory, Senator Jason Hayward told Labour Day crowds yesterday.
The head of the Bermuda Public Services Union said the introduction of a living wage and unemployment insurance had to be addressed, and that independence must be considered.
Mr Hayward said: “We have to come to the conclusion that we live in a system that is not designed for a segment of the population to get ahead.
“We have seen the middle class deteriorate, we have seen our communities deteriorate, we have seen our family structures deteriorate.
“Some will say all by design. So if I want to stand here on this Labour Day as a free worker, we must really be free.
“We have to shift the conversation and remove ourselves from this colonial rule.
“We have to now look at independence as a viable option for our people so we can set our own agenda, so we can create our own system and so we can see our people get ahead.”
Mr Hayward was speaking outside Bermuda Industrial Union headquarters in Hamilton before workers marched through the city to mark Labour Day.
He told a crowd of several hundred that the scale of the PLP victory had raised concerns that the new government would be unaccountable for its actions.
Mr Hayward said: “That landslide victory brought concern to many, both PLP supporters and non-supporters.
“Some people are of the notion that a landslide victory means that the PLP now rules, or has the ability to rule, in some sort of dictatorial style.
“Some are scared, because the OBA are now feeble and anaemic, that the PLP will run forth with its agenda with no real accountability.
“There is nothing farther from the truth.
“The labour unions in this country have always held governments accountable, friend or foe.”
But Mr Hayward said: “What it does bring is an opportunity for the PLP to move forward with a labour agenda unapologetically; an agenda that reduces the system that breeds income inequality, the lack of opportunity in this country for many.”
He added that the labour agenda put forward by the Bermuda Trade Union Congress called for unemployment insurance, a workforce development system to match people with jobs, guaranteed cost of living increases and the introduction of a livable wage.
Mr Hayward said: “I was invited to the Chamber of Commerce to sit on a panel to discuss a livable wage.
“My response was the talking is done and now is the time for implementation.”
Walton Brown, Minister for Home Affairs and Labour, told the crowds in Union Square that labour issues would be on the agenda when the House returned this week.
He said workers had played a vital role in the development of the country and that the PLP had already moved forward with efforts to create a stronger relationship between the government and workers, along with trade unions and employers.
Mr Brown added: “We have already met with the entertainers’ union to ensure that entertainers get a place of priority in their own country.
“We have already fixed some of the challenges with the work permit policy, a policy that said employers no longer needed to submit police certificates for contract workers.
“Meanwhile, Aecon has a policy that says no Bermudian with a criminal conviction can work on the airport’s construction phase. We needed to fix that.”
Mr Brown said: “This government will address some of the fundamental problems with the workplace.
“Employers are now increasingly hiring people only as contracted labour.
“They do that to avoid paying any benefits, which affects the workers as time goes on. We are fixing that.”
Mr Brown added that the government would consult the people, the unions and employers on all issues with the objective of creating a community in which workers are respected, valued and contribute to a better Bermuda.
He said: “In the next session, we will be looking at all the labour laws to see what changes can be made and should be made to ensure that workers rights are protected, are advanced, and we have a society that respects that.”
Chris Furbert, president of the BIU, said that Bermudians had suffered 80 per cent of job losses under the OBA, while expatriate workers made up the remaining 20 per cent.
Mr Furbert added: “It shouldn’t have been 80/20. There’s no way they can justify that.”
He said that the BIU had attempted to work with the OBA in their first years in office, but that the OBA had “attacked” Mr Hayward and clergyman Nicholas Tweed.
And he said: “On July 18, the house of cards came tumbling down.”
Shannon James, president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said the island had endured a storm and now needs to come together — and singled out the work of volunteers to get the island’s schools ready to open for the new school term.
David Burt, the Premier, was earlier the keynote speaker at the BIU’s Labour Day banquet, held on Friday night.
Mr Burt pledged to look at the “historical injustices of stolen lands” and to get to the bottom of what happened during the airport protest on December 2 last year.
Delivering his first major speech as Premier, he also vowed to implement a living wage and emphasised the importance of solidarity to “harness the forces of economic empowerment”.
Mr Burt said: “With our election victory, we have won the tools to make change, and that is the power to change laws and to control the public purse. But that alone will not make the change to ensure that children and grandchildren of today’s workers will become the producers tomorrow.
He added: “Now that the people have chosen to put their trust and belief in us, that our collective leadership can work together, we have to demonstrate to them what solidarity can achieve.”
Mr Burt also emphasised that the new government’s objective is “not a revenge mission”.
But he added: “Justice must still be done. So we must examine the historical injustices of stolen lands to ensure that some families finally get their justice.
“And we must ensure that we get to the bottom of the horrors of December 2, 2016, where workers and seniors were viciously assaulted, and find out what happened — and the truth because our people deserve no less.”