Unintended consequences

As times get tougher in Bermuda, and employees compete for jobs and firms compete for an ever dwindling work, the law of unintended consequences is starting to get amplified.

For example, we're currently seeing a debate about work conditions, pay, and hours in the construction industry for Bermudians versus foreign workers.

The argument has thus far centred on the obvious - immigrant labour anywhere will work for less and work much longer hours than the local population - that's almost a given. Work permit holders are here to work, and they're explicitly told by the Minister not to expect any permanency, and that they aren't welcome for long, so they cram in as much work as they can do. Make hay while the sun is shining.

Bermudians with their families and other commitments here want more normalized working hours.

The construction industry flare up was pretty much inevitable. Employers need to bid competitively and cutting labour costs is the best way to get your number down without reducing your profit margin.

But here's an issue which doesn't get discussed, and what I think is an unintended impact of work permits:

Foreign workers are not just more attractive at times due to willingness to work longer for less, they are also less mobile. The employer has a level of control over their foreign employee as they're only allowed two jobs in 5 years and must seek a release from the current employer to seek new work.

So some employers I suspect see a work permit as an asset; their employee cannot jump ship for a new employer, and they may, just may, lean towards non-Bermudians for that reason.

Here's another.

A company has two employees who are indistinguishable in skills, performance etc.. They're both valuable but one is Bermudian, one is not. The employer doesn't want to lose either but knows that one is reaching the end of his 6 year limit.

So what happens? They begin to inflate (either artificially or for real) the position, title and responsibilities of the non-Bermudian in order to get him that key employee status so he can stick around.

And the Bermudian loses out as some non-Bermudians benefit from what I call key-employee title inflation.

Bermuda's immigration policy is broken. It lacks realism and is a serious impediment to Bermuda's future growth and prosperity.

It's time for it to be completely revisited, absent the inferiority complex, xenophobia and elitism that is embedded in it. Bermuda's immigration policy is contributing to many of these problems not preventing or fixing them.

At the end of the day it is quite simple. If a Bermudian is available to do the job then they should get the position. If not then it doesn't matter who the expat is and whether they've been here for more than 6 years or not. Churning expats is idioitic, expensive and pointless - other than political window dressing.

If a non-Bermudian has been filling a job for over a decade and been a good, productive, upstanding citizen - a net contributor to Bermuda - why shouldn't they have an expectation of long-term residency, or - gasp - citizenship?

I know, I know. I just touched the sacred cow of Bermuda politics.

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