The One Bermuda Alliance agreed to “strengthen opportunities” for local entertainers by revisiting new immigration policies.
Shadow home affairs minister Walton Brown had led a motion in the House of Assembly, calling for the rejection of the updated work permit policy, which he felt put Bermudian performers at a disadvantage.
Among the contentious issues were the removal of the requirement for travellers’ dues to be paid to the Bermuda Entertainers Union as a condition of the permit application process, and the discontinuing of the provision for Bermudians to get equal time to perform as a work permit-holder.
Following a heated debate, and then strong assurances by the OBA to work in collaboration with the Opposition on solutions, Mr Brown agreed to reword his motion.
Instead of rejecting the policy outright, the new motion called for Government to revisit its policies “with a clear view to strengthen opportunities for local entertainers”. That motion was passed.
Mr Brown told the House: “There was a work permit policy that worked for musicians right up until 2014. The policy was really very straightforward.
“The challenge today is that the Government has amended the policy to say that all a business has to do is place an ad in a newspaper and anyone who applies for it will be treated like anybody else who applies. There is no preference given to the Bermudian artist community, which is how it used to be.”
He said this creates an environment where the employer will want to hire foreign workers.
One reason, he said, is the inequality in the pay packages because the cost of foreign entertainment can be cheaper, adding: “You have a structural inequality in the employment environment.”
Home affairs minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin pleaded with the Opposition for a compromise, saying: “We can’t obtain what we want to do by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
She went on: “We have to do this in such a way that you don’t create impediments when there is a lack of response. If local entertainers failed to apply a schedule couldn’t be kept.
“If policy needs tweaking I am more than willing to come up with a proper way to collect fees and ensure union has the money it needs.
“I implore the members of the Opposition to join us in ensuring that we can work together on this.”
However, Progressive Labour Party MP Lawrence Scott said he supported the motion “as it stands” — an outright rejection — stating the current policy “stifles” entertainers. “This motion in the way it is worded does the right thing.”
Opposition MP Diallo Rabain criticised the “lack of consultation” saying that when his party asked for tweaks it “received very little”.
“This House rejects this policy and sends a message to the government that it cannot run roughshod over the people of this country. It’s too late — they had a chance.”
Jamahl Simmons, Shadow Tourism Minister, said Mr Brown’s motion “calls for action” saying: “Let’s not stop here — let’s take up the mantle of comprehensive immigration reform”.
Health minister Jeanne Atherden said to reject the policy was to say that “everything that was changed was wrong”.
PLP MP Wayne Furbert who has a background in entertainment himself made his message short and clear: “Just reject the policy”.
Mr Brown had spoken earlier to a “moral imperative” as there was “no incumbency on the government to do anything”.
He said there would be no tax consequence or decline in revenue by going back to the previous policy. Instead, it would create greater opportunities for the “plethora” of local talent.
He also urged Government to “make it a requirement that when you send in your application for a work permit for entertainers you include that section, the box which says ‘yes, we have submitted our dues to the entertainers union’”.
“And if it’s not ticked, the application is not processed.”
But following the debate he added: “We are calling for a new policy. If the minister is sincere that she will revisit the policy I am prepared to present a revision to the motion.”
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