FRIDAY, DEC. 9: Bermuda needs young and fit expatriate workers to pay the bills for an ageing population, a Chamber of Commerce expert said last night.

Peter Everson, the chairman of the economics committee of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said overseas workers, who tend to be younger than their Bermudian counterparts, were needed to help pay the ever-increasing cost of pension and healthcare provision for older Bermudians.

Mr Everson warned: “In order to maintain anything close to the lifestyle and income levels Bermudians were used to five years ago, we are are going to have to have an economy which employs far more work permit holders than it does today.

New jobs

“We need to create new jobs for Bermudians and jobs for Bermudians that are under-employed, as well as bringing in work permit holders who are younger and healthier and who will help pay for the pension and health costs of retirees — that’s the challenge we face.”

Mr Everson was speaking as he prepared a review of the economy, due to be presented to a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce next week.

He said: “It’s an update on what we did last year and what might be the challenges for next year. It will have a greater focus on the demographics of the Bermuda population.

“The Bermuda working population is ageing quite quickly and the work permit holders who are leaving are generally younger and healthier. That makes the pensions and healthcare costs much higher for Bermudians who remain.

“At the moment, we have fewer young, healthy and fit people living on the island, so health care costs are going up — that’s something which has come through in the last 18 months.”

Mr Everson said the high birth rates of generations ago and better health care meant more people were surviving well past retiring age, which the Bermudian workforce was shrinking due to a declining birthrate since the 1970s.

He explained: “A shrinking Bermudian workforce and an ageing population also means a shrinking tax base for Government just when pension payments will have to increase.”

Mr Everson said that Government’s annual budget was around $900 million — but around $125 million a year needed for benefits for retired public service workers.

He added that, according to the 2000 census, the median age of a Bermudian was 37.7 — but, by 2030, that was expected to have increased to 45.6.

Other parts of the world, including the UK, are also struggling under a pensions burden, especially as the “baby boomer” post-war generation retires from the workforce.

But Mr Everson said: “Bermuda in a far worse position than the UK – the birthrate here has been low for a long time now and that’s probably been masked by the economy expanding and drawing in work permit holders, who are in general far younger than their Bermudian colleagues.”

He explained that British people, if they lost a job tended to remain the UK and get other employment, so they still contributed to the economy, while overseas workers in Bermuda usually left the island if they were made redundant.

Mr Everson said: “Bermudians seek jobs from work permit holders — the work permit holder leaves and the population continues to shrink. Bermuda is a bit different from the UK and other parts of the world.”