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Silence from Government on Senate rejection of CURE initiative

By Stephen Breen, GazetteNET News, Thursday 30 March 2000

Bermuda, March 29, 2000. Government ministers remained tight-lipped yesterday about how they will try to resurrect the CURE reporting regulations following their defeat in the Senate.

Monday's Senate vote has placed on hold the implementation of rules requiring companies with more than ten employees to provide racial details about their workers.

Independent senators shared the concern of the Opposition United Bermuda Party senators that consultation with businesses was inadequate and voted with them to defeat the proposal by 6-5.

Government will have to take the regulations back before the House of Assembly again for amendment before they come to the Senate once more to be ratified.

If Government decides to make no changes, the Commission for Unity and Equality (CURE) legislation will be automatically approved by Senate in a year.

The setback will have been discussed in Cabinet yesterday, but neither Development, Opportunity and Government Services' Terry Lister, who introduced the legislation, nor Premier Jennifer Smith, returned calls to The Royal Gazette.

The UBP said Mr. Lister should go "back to the drawing board" and consult properly with business leaders before providing a new set of regulations.

Employers groups were caught by surprise when they discovered that the final draft of the regulations required bosses to track the transfer of employees and to ask staff their salaries and bonus levels.

All this information would be supplied on an aggregate level broken up into race to CURE.

The Bermuda Employers Council, which represents 360 companies, said it received the final draft eight days before the regulations were passed in the House of Assembly.

Shadow Development, Opportunity and Government Services Minister Allan Marshall, said last night: "Yesterday's Senate vote indicated that independents shared the UBP's view that the final regulations are unacceptable in their present form.

"There was a lack of consultation with the business community and there have been numerous articles indicating there has been insufficient consultation between the Minister and the stakeholder groups.

"The ball is now firmly in the Government court and it behoves the minister to canvass people and perhaps go back to the drawing board and come back with a solution that is acceptable to stakeholders and includes them in the solution.

"Government needs to create a balance, and the balance has to do with ensuring equal opportunities in the workplace for Bermudians, and that is partly in the system with the Human Rights Commission, but more importantly, it has to ensure we don't jeopardise opportunities for Bermudians.

"These regulations are extremely cumbersome, overbearing, and asking a great amount of detail and personal information which is invasive, and one has to question what it is being used for.

"If the Minister is saying it is only watching information, then it doesn't seem to have much purpose.

"We need to grow business in Bermuda and create opportunities for Bermudians and their families to thrive and prosper.

"Part of that is ensuring that as a jurisdiction we are respectful of the needs of business, and likewise to ensure we communicate to business how we expect them to help push and grow our local talent."

Mr. Marshall suggested Government should be teaming up with employers groups to help promote scholarships and training in areas where there was a skill shortage such as insurance, law and information technology.

He added: "We want to ensure we do not jeopardise the business opportunities by putting in place over-burdensome, cumbersome red tape because it increases the cost of business.

"We are already an expensive place to do business and if we continue to increase the cost it is putting up the red flag, and that is extremely dangerous."

UBP leader Pamela Gordon added: "We are not trying to encourage businesses to have practices which are less than fair and equitable, but we believe there is another way.

"We need to come up with a regulatory environment that will be acceptable to the business community as well as fair to the rest of the community so that we don't have people utilising civil disobedience."