Appeal to the Public Service

By Government Senator Vic Ball

The Bermuda Trade Union Congress (BTUC) and its members should reconsider the question of whether to agree to one furlough day per month or make some compromise related to the number of furlough days to be considered by its members.  

The trouble Bermuda is in is not an issue that should be fought out between the unions and the Government, as if it is a matter of settling some minor difference in an employment agreement.  The outcome should not be arrived at through threats and brinkmanship.  Our difficulties as a country are much too big and much too far-reaching for that. 

As I think about the events of last week, involving the Government and the BTUC, I’m reminded of the old story of Rip van Winkle.  He fell asleep, you’ll remember, and woke up 20 years later to find himself in a world changed beyond recognition. 

It’s sad to realize, but Bermuda and Bermudians fell asleep some years ago. While our eyes were shut, our debt ballooned out of control, reaching the almost incomprehensible figure of $2 billion.

It is debt that we and future generations of Bermudians are going to have to pay back, starting now.   We don’t have any more time to sleep.

One of the things the OBA Government had to do when it was voted in was turn on the lights.  We had serious concerns coming into office, but nothing prepared us for the awful truth of our debt burden and the momentum behind it. The situation is brutally clear: unless we end the massive annual spending deficits – that is the gap between what government spends and what it takes in – we risk national insolvency and our financial independence. This is the challenge of our time, and the consequences of what we do will impact all of us moving forward, including our children and theirs.

Bermuda’s private sector has been awake for at least six years! Business owners saw the writing on the wall, and realized that unless they began to adjust to the new reality, their company wouldn’t survive.  So beginning in 2009, some businesses started to go to four-day work weeks, made some employees redundant, and laid off others.

In stark contrast, there are currently no unemployed Government workers.  The furlough day that was agreed last year helped make that happen.

The civil service wage and salary bill eats up close to 50% of all of government revenue.  If Bermuda’s deficit is going to be arrested quickly, we can all see quite plainly that this expense is going to have to be trimmed.

The Government’s deficit this year is projected to be $267 million…. money we have to borrow just to keep civil servants paid and services running.    That in itself would be alarming if we had no debt, but with the debt, it is an insane number.  It is not sustainable and it is a fact we must face now.

All civil servants have kept their jobs.  Many in the private sector have not.  Quite frankly, no one wants to see unemployed former government workers.

With that said, is it so bad to ask civil servants to give up one day a month, for a total of 12 days a year, when some private sector employees are losing a day a week, for a total of 52 days a year?

I have a wife, sister, family members, former colleagues and many friends who work for the government. I was myself a civil servant - until 2012.  I know that civil servants don’t want to see their co-workers, friends or family members unemployed.  Most civil servants understand that it is better that all accept a 4.6% decrease in pay rather than some having no job at all.

As a former Government employee, I am suggesting to my friends in the public service that they should reconsider the question of whether to agree to one furlough day per month or some compromise.

I will finish with a familiar story, this one about a man named Noah. He warned the people for many years that one day a flood would come and destroy the Earth. He was ridiculed and no one believed him, even after they watched the animals enter the ark without any supervision. He was mocked and called many names even after the door of the ark closed without a visible hand.  

We know how that story ended.

Friends, the signs are there.   Please pay attention.  Bermuda is in trouble, and needs your support.  Bermuda needs everyone’s support.

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