Timothy Seon, President, Prison Officers Association

Bermuda’s maximum security prison is destined for a long hot summer that will be hotter than usual, as prison officers look set to take their case, citing ten years with no wage agreement and deplorable conditions to arbitration.

In an exclusive interview with Bermuda Real, Prison Officers Association Chairman Timothy Seon stated outright that the protracted dispute “has to go to arbitration”.

Apart from their safety concerns and working under deplorable conditions, in a building riddled with mould, he said there is no way the membership will agree to the GEHI plan suggested.

“No one with a sane mind is going to agree to take on the liability of being injured by people who have been put in our charge through a court order,” said Mr Seon.

“We work in deplorable conditions unlike any other government agency. We’ve seen the Chief Justice refuse to work out of Supreme Court 3 because of mould.

“We’ve seen schools on numerous occasions close because of mould. We’ve seen the police station moved because of mould.

“And we’ve a court award of $5.4 million in October 2016 for the damages that a police officer endured systemic to the long term exposure to mould.

In light of all that, Mr Seon said: “Enough is Enough!

“Rest assured, we are not going to let it rest and it looks like this will be another long hot summer – only this time the patience and tolerance levels have reached an all-time high!”

More than half of Bermuda’s 184 prison officers met on Monday while the work to rule remains in effect, to take a “vote of no confidence in the leadership and the powers that be on this protracted situation.

The POA Chairman also noted that to date, there are 184 prison officers employed, when at least 243 are needed.

Asked to describe the sentiment of the association’s membership, he said: “They feel that the Government hasn’t taken them seriously.

“These issues have been systemic since 2000 – 17 years later they’re fed up,” he added.

“We’ve seen three different Ministers, three different Permanent Secretaries and all of them have said that they are going to resolve the issues at hand. But nothing’s been done and that’s on top of three government administrations.

“And so here we are – past fed up!

Unlike other government employees, he said: “We are subject to Labour Relations Act 1975, we are exempted from some of the articles of the Employment Act 2000.

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“We don’t have the protection in place like other government workers like for things like our personal safety,” said Mr Seon.

“Right now there appears to be a policy that 184 officers is causing the cost of GEHI insurance to balloon.

“It is impossible for less than 1 percent of the Government Civil Service to make health insurance costs go up or skyrocket, when it’s the cost of healthcare in Bermuda – period!”

Moving forward, he said: “We are aware that work to rule is going to create a different environment behind those prison walls which is not going to be favourable to either the officers and inmates because of the work to rule and the shortage of staff.

“We are not properly equipped to give the inmates the incentives that they normally receive such as three visits a month. That’s going to go down to one visit a month.

“There is not going to be any work going on like maintenance and no longer will there be any charity work by inmates housed at the Prison Farm, who paint the homes of senior citizens because there will be no escorted charity work supervision. And recreation time for inmates will be limited.

“Even in his case, he said he has respiratory problems due mould working in a building riddled with mould.

The POA has also sent a formal letter to the Acting Commissioner requesting a tour for Cabinet Ministers. They need to be more knowledgeable of the conditions.

“The inmates are not happy about the mouldy environment that they live in and inmates are being denied tests at the expense of family members willing to pay for the tests. And they’re not happy about that among other things,” he added.

“Tests will show that they have medical problems because of mould and that’s a very serious thing because eventually inmates will be released and some will be released with serious illness due to mould. And the same applies to prison officers.”

Asked how he sees this playing out, the POA Chairman said: “As it stands now, we’re not sure how it will play out because it’s being kicked around like a political football.

“But rest assured, we are not going to let it rest!

“And it looks like this will be another long hot summer only this time the patience and tolerance levels have reached an all-time high.”