Menial tasks: Workers from poorer countries, like the Philippines, often work in low-paid jobs, living in shared accomodation, to save money to send home to relatives. *iStock photo

Menial tasks: Workers from poorer countries, like the Philippines, often work in low-paid jobs, living in shared accomodation, to save money to send home to relatives. *iStock photo

“If you don’t like it go home” — Filipino workers in Bermuda say this is the most typical response to complaints about pay and conditions.

Workers, fearful of having their permits revoked, say they accept long hours and low pay because it enables them to send money back home for their families.

Unemployment is rife in the Philippines, where average earnings are less than $3,000 a year.

One bartender told us she was able to save enough from her $5.25 hourly wage and tips to send $100 a week home to put her brother and sister through college.

Another woman, employed as a housekeeper and nanny to a Bermudian family, was paid $11 per hour.

She said she was able to save money by sharing a small apartment with three other women.

The woman, who has now left the island, said she was “let go” by her employer when she complained that she was not paid overtime when the couple left her in charge of their children for a week.

The Bermuda Sun heard stories from several disgruntled foreign workers; they do not want to reveal their names for fear it will affect the employment opportunities of friends and relatives still working in Bermuda.

One waiter who left the island last month said his contract was terminated and he was given three weeks to leave the island.

He said he had accepted long hours without overtime pay during his time in Bermuda and though he was employed as a waiter, he was consistently ordered to do other jobs — including cleaning in the kitchen.

“We Asians never complain about anything, we treasure our jobs to support our family back home but this company is taking advantage and we cannot do anything because our job is at stake here,” he said.

An increasing number are starting to make their voices heard. But many more remain silent.

Richard Powell, a Bermudian with links to the Filipino community who has acted as a liaison with authorities in a number of labour disputes, said workers were routinely told to complete tasks outside their permits.

One nursery school teacher quit after five years because he was fed up of having to cut the grass and do maintenance work for free on the weekends, Mr. Powell said.

He tried to stand up for the rights of local Filipinos because he had many friends in the community and wanted to help give them a voice: “A lot of them leave their families and children,” Mr. Powell said, “come halfway around the world, work at a job that Bermudians don’t always want to do, under conditions that most Bermudians would not work for wages and that most Bermudians would not accept, to attempt to provide their families with a living.”

Many employers were honest and paid reasonable wages and looked after their workers, he added. But some took advantage of the fact that their workers were desperate for jobs and could be easily replaced by other migrant workers in similar situations.

“Whenever they complain they are told ‘if you don’t like it, go home’.”

He suggested if the Labour Ministry wanted to know the truth about working conditions for migrant workers, it should ask those who had left the island and had least to lose.

“We conduct an exit-survey for tourists — why don’t we do it for permit holders?”

Labour Day special

As Labour Day approaches, the Bermuda Sun takes a look at the island’s immigration trends. We examined the influence of a reported influx of low-wage unskilled labour from overseas combined with the more familiar faces of the well-paid international business workers and asked — where does this leave regular Bermudians?