Sacked staff concerned by lengthy wait for inquiry

  • Still waiting: Yolanda Dowling and Sherika Bell were sacked from Bermuda HealthCare Services last summer and are awaiting the outcome of an inquiry by the Workforce Development Department.

    Still waiting: Yolanda Dowling and Sherika Bell were sacked from Bermuda HealthCare Services last summer and are awaiting the outcome of an inquiry by the Workforce Development Department.
    ((Photo by Akil Simmons))

Staff who were sacked from a health clinic claim officials are dragging their feet over a probe into alleged intimidation at their former workplace.

Government’s Workforce Development Department began the inquiry last summer after two staff were dismissed from Bermuda Healthcare Services, the clinic run by former Premier Ewart Brown.

A number of employees claim that a campaign of intimidation was launched against them after they sought to become unionised last July. Sherika Bell and Yolanda Dowling were subsequently dismissed in September. Another worker was dismissed in October after filing a complaint in May and a fourth was told her contract was not being renewed last month.

Ms Bell and Ms Dowling filed a complaint with the Workforce Development Department — formerly the Labour Department — in August, before they were dismissed, and Bermuda Public Services Union General Secretary Ed Ball later confirmed that an investigation by the department was underway.

But both women say they have heard nothing from the investigating team since then, and suspect that the inquiry may have been secretly shelved.

In a letter to Labour and Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy earlier this month, Ms Dowling expressed her frustration at the lack of progress in the probe, and claimed she had had no contact from officials since it was launched more than five months ago.

“We have rights, we all wish to be heard, and compensated for our hardships, the bullying and harassment,” she said.

“We are at the point of coming out again to the media to stand up and not sit down and be walked over. We have been patient, but that patience has done nothing but bring us pain, hardship and stress beyond our belief. I could continue on but I really believe you all understand how we all feel. Please respond so that we can have some idea as to what is going on — if anything at all.”

Yesterday, a Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs spokeswoman said the investigation was still active, but declined to give a progress report.

“This matter is currently being investigated by the Department of Workforce Development,” the spokeswoman said.

“However, as is standard protocol, the department does not comment on individual matters.”

Last night Ms Dowling questioned that claim and said she had still not been contacted by the department since writing her letter.

And she also pointed out that investigators had failed to interview any staff about the allegations in the five months since the complaint was first made.

“The Labour Department has had three complaints filed between May and August and now, five months or more later, the only thing that they can say is that the investigation is ongoing — well that doesn’t say a whole lot,” Ms Dowling said.

“Surely if they were taking this inquiry seriously, the three people who they needed to speak to immediately is the three people who made the complaint to begin with — myself and two of my former colleagues.

“Yet none of us have been spoken to since the investigation started last summer, which makes us believe that they aren’t taking our complaint seriously.”

Ms Dowling stressed that the BPSU had been in regular contact to keep former staff updated on progress over unionisation talks with the clinic.

“Ed Ball at the union is the only one who has been helping us, but he isn’t involved in the investigation into intimidation and therefore can’t help on that front,” she said.

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Published Jan 14, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 13, 2014 at 11:09 pm)

Sacked staff concerned by lengthy wait for inquiry

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