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Bermuda union leader wants independence back on front burner


Bermuda union leader wants independence back on front burner

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HAMILTON, Bermuda –  A government legislator Monday said that independence for the Overseas British Territory should be back on the front burner following the Progressive Labour Party’s (PLP) landslide victory in July’s general election.

Government senator Jason Hayward, who heads the Bermuda Public Services Union, told Labour Day holiday crowds that the introduction of a living wage and unemployment insurance had to be addressed and that independence must be considered.

“I think 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,” he added.

The PLP, which had led the country from 1998 to 2012, won the July 18 election by 24 seats to 12, ending the One Bermuda Alliance’s (OBA) four-and-a-half years in power.

Almost 75 per cent of voters rejected independence in a 1995 referendum pushed by then premier Sir John Swan of the now defunct United Bermuda Party (UBP). Opposition to cutting ties with Britain has remained strong in the intervening 22 years.

Hayward said the scale of the PLP victory had raised concerns that the new government would be unaccountable for its actions.

“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 further from the truth. The labour unions in this country have always held governments accountable, friend or foe.”

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 said.

President of the Bermuda Industrial Union, Chris Furbert, said Bermudians had suffered 80 per cent of job losses under the OBA, while expatriate workers made up the remaining 20 per cent.

“It shouldn’t have been 80/20. There’s no way they can justify that,” he said.

The PLP’s first election victory ended 30 years of rule by the UBP following the introduction of party politics here in 1968.

After the PLP lost the 2012 election the OBA inherited a national debt of US$1.4 billion. It has since grown to US$2.4 billion. Unemployment is running at around seven per cent. (CMC)