Workers are prepared to consider overtime cuts, pay freezes and even shorter working weeks — if they see their bosses sharing the pain.
This is the verdict of Union boss Ed Ball, who believes Government will need to bring to an end the era of “excess spending” in order to convince people to accept cutbacks.
He said foreign travel, expensive consultants and other “elective spending” should be chopped first.
In the private sector, too, he says bosses need to cut back on bonuses and housing allowances for senior staff before they start shedding jobs.
And he warned that when cuts have to be made, guest workers should be the first to go.
Mr. Ball says Bermudian workers will also have to accept the new reality and realize their employer could be ‘a few dollars away from bankruptcy’.
And he said the traditional battle between unions and employers over pay and conditions needed to be replaced by a new spirit of cooperation.
“If it gets to the point where things are really dire we will have to look at ways and means to keep people employed. There will have to be sacrifices — half a loaf of bread is better than no loaf.
“But first we need to see an end to excess spending – the workers need to see genuine effort from their employers and from Government that they are looking at it.
“Anything that gives the impression they are not doing everything they can to curb spending will be a problem for Unions when it comes to negotiations.”
He believes there will have to be open communication between private employers, Government and the Unions with the combined goal of keeping Bermudians in work during the recession.
Mr. Ball, the general secretary of the Bermuda Public Services Union, said Premier Paula Cox was in a ‘catch 22’ situation as she attempts to deliver on her promise to cut $150 million from the budget.
He said cutting Government staff — often cited as the main contributor to the budget — would only make the problem worse.
“If you fire all those civil servants, who is going to employ them? Which employer is going to hire them right now?
“If you put them on Financial Assistance where is the money going to come from?”
And he warned that cutting the wage bill through ‘natural attrition’ was not a solution.
“If you increase the number of people eligible for early retirement where are you going to borrow the money to pay their pensions?
“The Government will still be paying for those people one way or another.”
He said the options for the Premier were limited.
“I don’t envy her. It is going to be interesting to see what she presents. I am very sure that she is aware of the stress and strain on business.”
He said the prospect of industrial action over cuts was unlikely — but it would be up to the members.
“I can’t predict what the membership will do. I hope it never gets to that point. We have got to maintain a level of sensibility and be creative during these times.”
He added that he was encouraged by Government’s promises to get tough on work permits.
But he said it was troubling to see some firms letting Bermudians go while expats stayed in work.
“The reality is that there are a number of Bermudians in all walks of life — from law firms to construction workers and administrative staff – that are being laid off.
“We are still hearing that work permits are being granted and that Bermudians are being let go while contract workers on a similar level are staying in employment.
“That puts an additional strain on financial assistance. I encourage every Bermudian in that position to go to the immigration department and the labour department. We can’t have companies putting Bermudians in hardship.”
Any solution will require sacrifices on all sides, including from workers.
“Craig Simmons (Bermuda College economics lecturer) touched on the fact that if things get worse we may have to look at reduced hours, pay freezes etc… people scoffed but that is what happened in Singapore and they turned their economy round in a year.
“The important part was that it was a tri-partide solution. The CEO’s cut their pay as well.
“It has to be achieved through co-operation between unions, Government and private businesses… We have lived beyond our means – now it is time to live within our means.”
Special report: Tough times