Hello again my dear reader,
I found a post on the Bermuda Sun newspaper website the other day that really explains the situation in Bermuda very succinctly. It uses the row over buses for tourists as a way in to the argument and makes a number of very interesting points.
First off, my favourite quote from the article:
In 1994 Bermuda and Bermudians switched into international business, abandoning tourism to lower-paid foreigners. Bermudians vacated their own ‘Living Room’ and left Bermuda’s tourist guests to be hosted by lower-paid foreigners
This really does say it all. As more and more Bermudians chose to work in the services industry (mostly insurance but also financial sector), a huge gap was left. The jobs that used to be taken up by Bermudians in the tourism industry were now up for grabs. Tourists were still coming to the island so the obvious thing to do was to bring low-paid workers (usually Azoreans but also others) to look after the tourism industry. But, these people don’t care for the tourists, it’s not their own businesses that they are working for and it’s their own national pride that is at stake. A low-paid foreign worker doesn’t care if a customer is unhappy with the service they receive. He or she will get paid regardless.
In the long run, this is unsustainable. In Greece, we took a similar path with low-paid workers and immigrants from Albania among other places. Not only did they eventually replace most low-paid professions (builders, cleaners, kitchen-staff in restaurants) but they lowered the quality of the service offering from the country. It’s very difficult to reverse this trend. Not only does it put people out of work (when you hire an illegal immigrant, pay them less than minimum wage and no insurance, the locals can’t compete), it also devalues the cost of work. Long term, what you end up with is that these groups self-organise and start to command appropriate salaries for their work. This, again, is what happened in Greece. If you’re building a house now (not that many people are any more), it’s almost inevitable that you’ll hire foreign people to do it because they have out-muscled the local builders with their aggressive pricing. But, the price is now almost the same as before, if not higher. The only difference is that you no longer have the choice of hiring a local company because they’ve gone out of business.
The moral of the story and what Bermuda can learn from Greece (other than to control its deficit and eradicate political corruption…) is that you can’t move all the local workers to a new paradigm of working e.g. from labourers, builders, gardeners, fishermen, tourism workers etc to financial services, insurance, administration and so on, without planning for local people to also take care of the customer-facing jobs that make or break the country’s reputation abroad. Good luck with that, it won’t be easy.