The Values of a Minimum Wage
Beyond all of the economic data and statistics, there is a moral question at the heart of any discussion around a minimum wage. Do we, as a society, accept that there are people in Bermuda who work full time for wages that trap them in poverty, and if so, what are we prepared to do about it?
Fortunately, the debate surrounding the introduction of a mandatory statutory remuneration regime or minimum wage has concluded. With the passage of the Employment (Wage Commission) Act 2019, that debate is over, and the questions now become how and when do we implement a minimum wage.
Thankfully, The Government is slated to table a Wage Bill in Parliament establishing a statutory minimum wage in alignment with a longer term goal of also implementing a living wage regime.
The time is past due for Bermuda to introduce this legislation as most modern, developed countries have a minimum wage regime. More than 90% of countries designated as International Labour Organization (ILO) member states currently have a statutory wage scheme. Considerable evidence-based studies have outlined the many benefits employers and employees realize in countries with a minimum wage.
We cannot continue to ignore the issue of employers reaping the benefit of tax breaks and financial incentives while simultaneously paying low wages. The exploitation of workers is a blight on the business community that contributes to income inequality and hinders social cohesion.
The underemployed are the third largest group of people receiving Financial Assistance in our island. This situation is not a result of the global pandemic, although clearly the pandemic did not help. Over 220 hardworking Bermudians who have jobs have been " forced" onto Financial Assistance because their wages are not sufficient to cover health insurance, food, rent, and or electricity. Employed individuals with insufficient earnings receive over $3.9 million in income subsidy from the Government annually. Imagine having a full-time job yet still relying on FA to make ends meet. This is not a budgeting issue; bringing home a weekly wage in the region of $400 will not cut it no matter how you crunch the numbers. Setting a minimum wage in law would ease the financial burden of the working poor, who are taxpayers like all other employees.
You cannot have unity in the absence of equity. Paying employees a fair wage is not only the right thing to do, but considerable evidence-based studies have outlined the many benefits for employers and employees in countries where a minimum wage has been instituted.
Making values-based legislative decisions is nothing new. American President FDR spoke about a living wage decades ago when he stated:
"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By 'business' I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers, I mean all workers, the white-collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of decent living."
On an individual level, thousands of Bermudians and residents alike make purchasing decisions by asking whether a company has environmentally friendly practices or if they commit to not using animals when testing products. If a company or service provider does not align with their values of protecting the environment and animals, they do not support them.
Moreover, we do not subscribe to the narrative that those who work in low paying jobs, particularly in the service industry, do not deserve to be able to afford food, shelter, and other necessities which causes harm to workers.
Instead we believe that a minimum wage regime is a simple case of good values and believe THERE IS dignity in all work, and therefore this is an easy decision.
A minimum wage will become a reality in Bermuda, and this Government and the PLP, like most of Bermuda, supports values associated with ‘living with dignity’!
MP Lovitta Foggo
Constituency 3 - St. David's