Mixed signals coming out of the House of Assembly, the Ministry of Transport and the Bermuda Industrial Union this weekend on just when the island’s public bus and ferry service will resume.
Now that the bus service has been suspended for just over a week, Transport Minister Lawrence Scott told MPs on Friday, that discussions would continue over the weekend.
But in a letter sent by the BIU to management, the union stated outright that until their health and safety demands, in addition to a rethink on the Government’s no work no pay policy there would be no talks.
The letter stated: “Upon completion and our satisfaction of the above request, only then can a discussion of resuming services be had with the membership.
“Therefore based on ALL of the above information, the Bus Division and the Marine and Ports Division of the BIU are more than justified in requesting that we be paid for the time we have been off because of these health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government policy of no work no pay does not apply in this situation because these are not normal circumstances.
“In the interest of returning public transportation services back to normal so that people who rely on the service are not inconvenienced any further, we are requesting that both departments rethink their decision of no work no pay.”
On the workers’ health and safety concerns, the letter also said: “Employers have an obligation to take all reasonable care in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of employees under the occupational safety and health legislation.”
On behalf of their membership, the union requested the following:
- Deep cleaning and sanitizing of all vessels/buses and all staff areas
- Deep cleaning and sanitizing to be performed on a mutually agreed schedule
- PCR or Saliva Covid-19 testing to be set up and performed on a bi-weekly basis, therefore everyone knows their status
- No loss of pay during this shut down period
Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:
The public bus service has been disrupted for seven days now. In these trying times, not having transportation adds additional stress, anxiety and burden to those who rely on the public bus service. As Minister, I feel compelled to report exactly why the commuting public has been without public buses.
Early last week, the Department of Public Transportation’s Safety and Health Committee Co-Chairs communicated about safety and health concerns within the workplace. The Committee did not formally meet, nor were any recommendations to the Department of Public Transportation (DPT) Management required under section 7B of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1982.
On Thursday, September 16, 2021, the President of the BIU Bus Division sent an email to the Acting Director of the DPT. He advised that as of 9am Friday, the Division would be withdrawing their labour. Just before noon on Friday, he sent a second email to the DPT Acting Director, DPT Operations Manager, the Government Occupational Safety and Health Officer and the Head of Public Service. In that email, he advised that the Division would withdraw labour as of noon that day under the provisions of section 84[e] of Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 2009.
A meeting was held between the DPT and the BIU Bus Division at 3pm Friday. The DPT informed the Division that the legislation provided for why the Division was withdrawing services was incorrect. The Bus Division acknowledged that the provision of law provided was not correct.
The DPT also advised that the requirements listed in the email were already in place and asked whether the Bus Division could be more specific.
The No Work, No Pay Policy was applied since the DPT believed the concerns could have been addressed without the Division withdrawing labour.
The DPT also wrote to the Labour Relations Manager to register a labour dispute between the DPT Management and the Bus Division of the BIU regarding the safety of the public bus service. The BIU responded that the matter was not a labour issue and should be treated as a safety and health emergency.
Later that night, the Division submitted a revised email quoting section 7A (1) and 7C(d) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1982 for their actions. After reviewing the situation, the Government Occupational Safety and Health Officer advised that the Ministry of Health has approved the COVID-19 protocols at the DPT to provide for continuing safe operations. She noted that there had been an increase in Covid cases, but that does not satisfy the notion of imminent danger.
She further stated that section 7A refers to the employee having the right to refuse work if there is reasonable cause to believe that the condition of the place of employment presents an imminent and serious danger to their health or life. While 7B allows the employee to report the matter to their employer and remain available for work until their claim has been investigated.
The main point is that the Division did not follow the law. The Government cannot justify paying when the Division does not comply with the law. Mr. Speaker, I understand the frustration and concerns that all of us have while we are in the current phase of COVID. It is a difficult time, and fears and anxiety about the Delta variants and other strong emotions can sometimes be overwhelming – especially for those members of our community that have been personally affected by COVID. I speak from personal experience as I, too, lost a family member due to Covid.
A large segment of our community, depends on public transportation to go about their day-to-day lives – including: our essential workers, nurses and caregivers getting to the hospital, residential care facilities and private residences; our seniors who need to get to their medical appointments, groceries and visits to their loved ones; our children getting to extra curriculum activities; the general public getting to work; Mr. Speaker, the list goes on. During this interruption, members of our community were at bus stops for long periods, waiting and waiting in all types of weather, some unsheltered, for a bus that did not show up.
The commuting public, was unnecessarily inconvenienced by actions that could have been addressed without leaving commuters stranded.
The Government cannot continue in the current vein: the public needs to be serviced and the BIU Bus Division members need to work in order to take care of their fundamental needs. The Ministry of Transport is committed to safety in the workplace and maintaining an environment where all staff are secure and safe at work.
Discussions between the parties are scheduled to continue at 10am tomorrow (Saturday, Sept25).