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Call for delay in workplace race rules

By Raymond Hainey, GazetteNET News, Thursday 30 March 2000

Bermuda, March 20, 2000 - Big business yesterday backed a move to delay the introduction of controversial new rules on race reporting in the workplace.

And David Ezekiel, chairman of the International Companies Division of the Chamber of Commerce, said he hoped Government would be open to negotiation on when the rules were implemented - and open to changes if the system proved to be too cumbersome.

Mr. Ezekiel said: "We would have liked there to have been a lot more consultation with international business and business in general.

"There is a lot of detail and a lot of that detail is not what we expected in terms of the amount of reporting and the type of reporting."

He added: "It's a difficult piece of legislation for many to accept in its current form.

"There was a case for delay and for a lot more consultation - but now it's passed, we're all going to have to find a way to deal with it and see whether there is room for discussion on when its implemented and if any changes we might want can be accommodated.

"And there may be changes we want - but its too early to say because we didn't have access to all the details."

And he stressed the new regulations did not just affect international business, but all firms employing more than ten people - as well as every employee.

Mr. Ezekiel said: "It's not just international business, it's not just large business, it's every single person and every single person who runs a company with more than ten people who need to be aware of what it will bring."

And he called on Government to hold further talks - with a view to cutting down on the bureaucracy and cutting the likely cost of the regulations.

Mr. Ezekiel was speaking after two bids by the Opposition failed to halt the passing of the new Commission for Unity and Racial Equality rules on Friday.

A plea by Shadow Development and Opportunity Minister Allan Marshall for his Government counterpart Terry Lister to hold off implementing the rules for six months was rejected.

And an Opposition call for a quorum - 14 MPs plus the Speaker - which, had it succeeded, would have delayed the debate for another week, was met when Government managed to scramble enough MPs into the House chamber within the five-minute deadline.

Mr. Ezekiel's view backed up an 11th-hour request for a delay on the regulations from Bermuda Employers' Council president Gerald Simons.

He warned that the BEC - which represents 360 companies with 22,000 employees - could not support the new rules "in their present form."

The regulations will require hundreds of businesses to register with CURE and provide annual breakdowns on race, employment level and income of the workforce, as well as information on the race of people interviewed for jobs and promotion.

New forms will also ask for racial headcount of people who have left individual companies and the reasons why.

Employees will also be asked to fill in a form giving their ethnic origin, job, annual income plus perks like annual bonuses, while applicants for posts will have to list their race and what job they applied for.

Firms which fail to register or to provide information to CURE will be liable for fines of between $1000 and $5000.

Mr. Ezekiel said: "Certainly, for many, it's very intrusive in terms of individual employees and looks like a huge bureaucratic task."

He added: "Very few people will argue with anything which promises fairer treatment for people in the workplace. And very few doubt this may be very well-intentioned.

"But, at the end of the day, Government seems to want more and more to get into people's lives.

"It's important that there is consultation and important that business is made to understand exactly why a lot of this detail is being provided."

And he added that international business had made its position on employing local talent wherever possible, without regard to race.

Mr. Ezekiel said: "A lot of people doubt whether it's addressing a major problem in Bermuda.

"International business has been a pains to exhibit that they do provide opportunities for Bermudians and that they're not selective as to who they allow to progress.

"There is a lot of opportunity in international business for people who want to take up the challenge."

Copyright by The Royal Gazette Ltd