Prison Officers Association (POA) Chairman Timothy Seon conceded today that he “mistakenly” misconstrued the threat of a Supreme Court injunction levelled by a representative of the Ministry of National Security to mean the Bermuda Government actually filed the court action.
When contacted by Bermuda Real, Mr Seon said: “We were in and out of meetings and because of the numerous processes and several meetings back-to-back; and the threat to impose an injunction, at some point I mistakenly relayed that part of the statement inaccurately.”
Asked for an update following the POA’s emergency meeting, he said: “Over half of the membership attended the meeting.
“Apart from the injunction mix-up their sentiment is the same, they are not happy!
“We communicated the lawful order to our membership. Under article 19 of Labour Disputes Act – I was told I must tell officers not to work to policy to allow the service to run.”
Essentially, he said: “Prison officers are being ordered not to work to our policies in place to ensure good order.”
As a result of this latest stance, Mr Seon said: “We went to meet with the Public Service Negotiating Team (PSNT) to tell them along with Cabinet Minister Wayne Furbert, that we can no longer sit with them as the POA was ordered by the authority of the Labour Dispute Panel to appear.
“The penalty for not appearing is $5,000 fine and or six months imprisonment,” he added.
The hearing has been scheduled to be held over three days in July.
Asked for the reaction by his membership at the meeting today, the POA Chairman said: “They’re not surprised, and there are those who strongly believe the Minister of National Security is talking out of both sides of his mouth.
“Until we started making noise and working to policy nothing was happening and they kept saying is ‘it’s no money’.
“Keep in mind we’re talking about outstanding issues dating back 20 years.
“The men and women who take on the calling of prison officers have been operating in good faith all this time.
“We marched on Cabinet in 2012, the Minister then was Kim Wilson and we marched on the same issues. Things didn’t start happening until we kicked it up.”
“We’ve been put in a compromised position working in dangerous conditions.
“Now that we’re working to policy there are no deliverable consistent classes or programs coming out of Wesgate – all they have is the treatment of sex offenders and violent offenders classes – that’s it – nothing else.
“The court ordered classes not available and we have inmates being denied parole because the classes are not available. So we have inmates who have to wait until the court ordered class is created and that could take six months.
“By the time it happens the inmates end up serving another year in prison when their parole date was the year before.”
The POA Chairman also noted that prison officers were faced with a new breed of inmates in 2012 after multiple shootings.
“We started getting inmates in their 20s being hit with big time – life sentences from 25 to 38 years. What’s the incentive for them serving life in prison?
“What’s the reason for them to comply with any prison rules? And as far as we’re concerned the powers that be don’t care as long as these violent offenders are off the streets – they don’t care.”
Moving forward, he said: “The POA members were not pleased with the current state of affairs.
“Many feel this has further severed relations between the Ministry and the membership, with the expectation of officers to further compromise their health and safety working out of policy to deliver classes and programmes.
“We have two weeks to prepare to present our arguments to the tribunal.”
Until then, he said: “It is disheartening that the Government would take a position and propose in a Labour Tribunal that overtime is mandatory; which goes against Article 4 of the Bermuda Constitution on the Protection From Slavery and Forced Labour (1968), which says no person should be held in slavery or servitude.
“Item 2 says:’No person shall be required to perform forced labour’ – which is overtime..
“Minister Caines says he cares, but he wants to force labour on Prison Officers by way of forced overtime.
“It is very hard to swallow that this proposal would come from a labour government.
“In the last seven weeks five officers have been injured due to three separate assaults on officers. Where is the policy on the health and safety environment for our safety.”
As it stands now, he said: “We are in contravention of any action short of a strike, work to rule, work to policy, or anything that causes the police or the regiment police creating a situation that will cause police or regiment to come in the facilities is unlawful’.
“A Labour government wanted to force labour on prison officers!”
In hindsight, he said the POA demonstration outside the House of Assembly last week “was worth it.
“The Minister and the Government both have to see that we are serious about having a safe and secure environment to work in and to show our discontent with the way that the negotiations have been going and us not being remunerated for our services.
Speaking after the demonstration at the House of Assembly, National Security Minister Wayne Caines told MPs: “This morning we saw an exercise in democracy.
“MP Famous talked about what we need to do as a Government because in just under two years we’ve had two marches and people look at the disquiet as a bad thing in certain quarters.
“I think it represents an opportunity for us to measure what we can do differently to make this country a better place.”
But he said: “I cannot let this go unchallenged.
“The narrative cannot be that this Minister and this Government do not concern ourselves with the members of Corrections – that is not true.”
- Feature Photos by Antonio Belvedere & Shawnette Somner