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Employers disappointed at proposed new race rules, says BEC chief

By Raymond Hainey, GazetteNET News, Friday 17 March 2000

Bermuda, March 17, 2000 - Bermuda's bosses do not support controversial new rules on mandatory reporting on race in the workplace, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

And Bermuda Employers' Council president Gerald Simons said he was "very disappointed" at the lack of consultation before the new regulations were tabled in the House of Assembly two weeks ago.

Mr. Simons added: "We have some very real concerns about them and we can't support them in the present form.

"They are onerous from a compliance point of view, they have cost implications for businesses and they are divisive in the way they will affect hiring decisions."

Mr. Simons added: "For employees, it will increase sensitivity on race, which has not been part of the workplace in many places recently.

He stressed: "The BEC whole-heartedly supports the concept of equal opportunity, without regard to race or gender."

And he added that the BEC - which represents 360 companies with 22,000 employees - had helped in the drafting of the Commission for Unity and Equality code of practice.

But he said: "We have been looking forward to seeing a draft of the regulations so we could comment on them - we regret that they were tabled in the House before we saw them."

Mr. Simons said the BEC had expected to have to report on some aspects of the workplace - but the scale of the requirements tabled in the House had come as a shock."

He said he expected Development and Opportunity Minister to tell MPs he had consulted a number of human resources staff from a number of major companies - but he insisted that had been done without telling top management or the BEC.

Mr. Simons added: "It's a real disappointment that a simple phone call to our office to discuss this issue before it went to the Legislature never happened."

The news came as a massive row over controversial new rules on race reporting in the workplace is set to break out in the House of Assembly today.

MPs will this morning get to grips with the regulations drawn up to cover mandatory race monitoring in businesses. Mr. Lister will kick off the debate for Government.

He said: "We will take the matter to Parliament, we will discuss it, everyone's point of view will be heard and Parliament will decide on the fate of the regulations."

And he poured cold water on claims that the regulations - with fines for non-compliance were the thin end of a wedge of anti-foreigner feeling.

Mr. Lister said: "The intent is to measure where we stand in the community, it's statistical information, building the community and ensuring people have a level playing field.

"It's all of the stuff we were voted in to do - this is one aspect of it."

Firms with ten or more employees will now have to register with Government and supply annual reports on recruitment, interviewing, training, promotions and dismissals based on race.

Failing to register with the Commission for Unity and Racial Equality could lead to a $1,000 fine - and failure to supply information to the commission could mean firms being slapped with a penalty of up to $5,000.

Shadow Development and Opportunity Minister Allan Marshall said the Opposition was worried about the uses the information would be put to - and the extra bureaucratic load on the international business sector.

And he added that part of Bermuda's attraction to business had been a light regulatory hand - and that making the CURE code of practice mandatory should have been allowed to work its way through the system before taking the issue further.

Top lawyer Tim Marshall later said the rules could be unconstitutional - and vowed to challenge them in court before his company was required to register.

The regulations - and tougher rules on work permits - were blamed by international businessman William Williams for the decision to uproot his $10 billion STW Fixed Income Management after nearly six years and relocate to California - with the loss of up to 18 jobs.

The regulations sparked a storm of controversy when details were announced earlier this year.

Government Whip Ottiwell Simmons said: "That will take up a lot of time - we anticipate a considerable amount of debate and discussion there.

"Obviously, there is some controversy over it - but I'm sure the Minister and the Government generally will explain the regulations and represent them well."

And Mr. Simmons added - although the debate is the only business scheduled - it was likely to be a long day.

He said: "While it might be a small meal, the Opposition will no doubt make a banquet out of it."

Copyright by The Royal Gazette Ltd