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Cablegate: Bermuda: Migrant Worker Abuse Now On the Radar Screen

VZCZCXRO8359
RR RUEHHT
DE RUEHHT #0030/01 0501936
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 191936Z FEB 10
FM AMCONSUL HAMILTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4017
INFO RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0966
RUEHHT/AMCONSUL HAMILTON 2195

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HAMILTON 000030

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
EUR/WE (R. MARBURG AND D. PARADISE);
EUR/PPD (L. MCMANIS AND A. PIPKIN);
LONDON FOR R. HUBER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PHUM PGOV BD
SUBJECT: BERMUDA: MIGRANT WORKER ABUSE NOW ON THE RADAR SCREEN

Summary

1. (SBU) Bermuda is one of the most affluent countries in
the world, but migrant workers at the lower end of the economy
in the construction, hospitality and domestic service industries
are vulnerable to workplace abuse. An estimated two-three dozen
guest workers complained about labor abuse to the Government of
Bermuda (GOB), unions or aid organizations in 2009. The GOB and
NGO sources fear that many more are afraid to protest abusive
conditions for fear of being deported and losing what to them is
a comparatively good income. End summary.

Migrant Labor Abuse Exists in Wealthy Bermuda

2. (SBU) Expatriates hold about one-third of all jobs in
Bermuda. While many work in the very lucrative international
business sector where pay is high ($94,373 median income), other
non-Bermudians - mostly from under-developed countries - work at
the low end of the pay scale in the tourism, construction and
domestic service industries (about $35,500 median income).
Minister of Labor and Home Affairs Lt. Col. David Burch publicly
acknowledged in February that a very small percentage of guest
workers are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers.
The Department of Labor and Training estimated that it received
four-five abuse complaints in 2009, primarily about excessive
hours or low wages (Bermuda has no minimum wage).

3. (SBU) Immigrants are employed in Bermuda under a strict
system of government work permits obtained by employers on
behalf of their foreign employees, usually for a term not to
exceed six years. The GOB and NGOs acknowledge that there is no
accurate way to judge the extent of migrant labor abuse, because
victims rarely lodge a formal complaint out of fear of
deportation or loss of income. However, if a victim does file a
complaint, the Department of Immigration is authorized to revoke
all of an abusive employer's work permits and/or prevent him
from obtaining permits in the future. Chief Immigration Officer
Rozy Azhar explained to Consulate staff that revoking work
permits is not a decision that the Department takes lightly, and
it has only done so once in recent memory. She said that more
often the Department puts a hold on a company's work permits;
"Regarding abusive employers, perhaps once in two months, we
will put an employer's (work permit) applications on hold while
the Department of Labor investigates the complaint. Normally
that is enough of a threat for employers to improve their
treatment of employees. The challenge to all of this is that
persons have to complain so that we can identify it as a trend
in that company. Most do not." In cases of permit revocation,
the Immigration Department is authorized to afford the guest
worker relief by issuing a new work permit to seek alternate
employment. Stories that the Immigration Department will deport
the victim are untrue, according to Azhar.

4. (SBU) In 2009 approximately two dozen migrant workers,
mostly from Asia, contacted an NGO about abusive conditions,
either the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU), the Physical Abuse
Center (PAC), the Women's Resource Center (WRC), and the
Salvation Army. The PAC told Consulate staff that live-in
nannies, many of whom are from the Philippines, are particularly
at risk. According to the BIU, a few employers require guest
workers to live in illegally-crowded dwellings, while in other
cases guest workers choose to live that way to reduce living
costs. All the NGOs mentioned that the abuse is often in the
form of long hours, lower wages for the same work, or denied
benefits. They also stated that in a very few cases, employers
reportedly confiscate victims' passports. The PAC noted that
some employers have been known to threaten complaining migrant
workers with having to repay the entire cost, or the return
portion, of their airline tickets, which may be beyond their
means.

Comment

5. (SBU) Although migrant labor abuse is not a major issue
in Bermuda, it does exist, and the GOB and NGOs fear it could be
larger issue than many people realize. The good news is that
the government and NGOs are aware of the problem, and the BIU is
offering union protection to migrant workers - a first for the
labor organization. Bermuda's labor movement has traditionally

HAMILTON 00000030 002 OF 002


been anti-foreigner, but those tensions seem to be in abeyance
somewhat now that the membership sees the value of incorporating
guest workers into a system where union wage guidelines apply to
all workers, both Bermudians and non-Bermudians - thereby
reducing the likelihood of wage competition.
SHELTON

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