Bermuda’s prison officers will meet at 9:30 this morning to discuss their next course of action now that they have won their case in the Supreme Court in a legal battle against plans to make them pay for their health insurance.

The judgment handed down by Chief Justice Narinder Hargun on Wednesday also also quashed the decision that staff had to accept the pay increases offered by the Government.

The Court ruled that the Government’s position on Corrections Officers paying into the GEHI scheme is “unlawful”.

In a statement released by the Prison Officers Association (POA) expressed hope that “the Government will accept the decision and will now act fairly”.

In August 2019, the Labour Dispute Tribunal ruled that prison officers would have to begin to pay the employee portion of their Government Employee Health Insurance contributions.

The tribunal also found that the workers were entitled to pay increases of 2.5 percent for the financial year starting April 1, 2017, and 2 percent the next year to match pay increases given to other government employees.

The POA took their case to the Supreme Court against the tribunal and the Minister of National Security.

The statement issued after the ruling said: “The Corrections Officers have always paid the health premiums and related costs for their dependents. This decision by the Chief Justice supports the position that the POA has taken throughout the negotiations process that we are exempt from making GEHI contributions, per the contracts, which have been in existence for the last 50 years.

“The Chief Justice has ruled that the Corrections Officers, by working to their contracts, in May 2019, did not breach any laws nor did they engage in any illegal industrial action, which means that the Cabinet acted in haste, and prevented the natural process of negotiations by bullying, harassment, and the abuse of power by forcing arbitration.

“At great expense to the Bermuda tax payer this three year battle has been fueled by a labor government who say that they put the people of Bermuda first. The Government of Bermuda fought vehemently to remove contractual benefits of government employees. A determined battle due to the narrowmindedness and short sightedness of this present government administration to achieve an unfair outcome by any means necessary.

“Had the Government of Bermuda put as much effort into remedying the adverse work and housing conditions of our Officers and incarcerated population, as suggested by the POA through the negotiations process, then this court process would not have been necessary.

“The apathy and lack of action for years by Senior Management and Cabinet exasperated the existing malaise, and low morale, and confirmed the lack of confidence in the ability of senior management and the Cabinet to act expeditiously, fairly, and in ensuring a safe and healthy environment.

“The Mandela Rules have been consistently ignored by Government and has, in effect, created a hostile environment among those who are incarcerated as well as Corrections officers. This international standard must be implemented and enforced without hesitation on the part of senior management and Cabinet.

“This is a hard won victory. It is hoped that the Government will accept the decision and will now act fairly and in good faith going forward.”

Responding to the ruling, Minister Wayne Caines said: “We respect the decision of the Supreme Court and are reviewing the judgment in its entirety and its implications. However, this decision aside, we have ongoing core issues between the Ministry and the POA and we hope to find an amicable resolution.

“For the last two years, our Ministry has sought to address any impasses and challenges with the POA head on. It is always my desire, as the Minister with responsibility for the Department of Corrections, to ensure that we have a strong plan with regard to our Corrections facilities, as well as addressing the concerns of all Corrections staff and the welfare of the inmates.

“We have had some success in some areas. We have implemented strategic action plans aimed at strengthening security at our facilities, and we have worked towards improving the infrastructure at our facilities.

“In good faith, and proactively, this Ministry has taken positive steps forward to address any and all concerns. Following today’s court decision, we look forward to working with the POA to resolve the additional outstanding core issues.”

The POA was represented by lawyer Delroy Duncan, who said the officers had a “substantial” expectation of free health insurance based on their employment contracts.
Even with the increased salary, he said the result would have been a net loss for prison officers.
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