Prison officers’ contracts gave GEHI coverage
The Labour Dispute Tribunal defended its decision to require prison officers to make health insurance payments on the second day of a Supreme Court hearing.
While the Government maintained that prison officers were never promised free health insurance, it accepted that employment contracts for officers produced in 2017 and 2018 stated that uniformed officers received free Government Employee Health Insurance.
Gregory Howard, from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, said he could not say how the clause was included, but that it could not be supported in the law. He said: “It recognises the status quo, but it doesn’t reflect the policy position of the Government when this was drafted.”
Mr Howard added that the tribunal had determined that the Government Employees Health Insurance Act, which requires government employees to pay into the GEHI scheme, was the “law of the land”.
Lawyer Mark Diel, representing the tribunal, denied the suggestion that it was biased towards forcing the removal of GEHI exemptions from prison officers.
He said: “The express purpose was settling the differences between the parties.”
Mr Diel added that it made sense for the dispute to be referred to the tribunal before there was a risk of industrial action, particularly after prison officers marched on Parliament in June.
He said that while prison officers’ work is not legislatively deemed an “essential service”, in the everyday sense of the word the prison officers are indeed essential.
Mr Diel said the tribunal found that under the GEHI Act 1986, the prison officers were required to pay the employee portion of their health insurance costs, although the Government had been paying that portion for 33 years.
He said that under the law, the Government should not make the payments for them, as it has done since 1986, and that the tribunal had rejected a proposal to “grandfather in” present prison officers for that reason.
Chief Justice Narinder Hargun commented it was a “bizarre case” given the long history of payments by the Government.
“People in Government took the view, if I look at the individual employment contracts in 2017 and 2018, there was nothing wrong with saying they will give free health insurance,” the Chief Justice said.
“This is a long-held position and Government had been making payments on behalf of employees. It certainly didn’t occur to anybody that they couldn’t do it.”
The case comes after years of negotiations between the Government and the Prison Officers Association, whose collective bargaining agreement formally ended in 2010.
The Government had openly sought to require prison officers to make contributions as part of a policy to ensure that all those who benefit from the GEHI pool actually pay into it.
The dispute was brought in August to the tribunal, which found the prison officers were entitled to pay increases of 2.5 per cent for the financial year starting April 1, 2017, and 2 per cent the next year to match pay increases given to other government employees.
Prison officers had sought greater increases to create parity with officers in the Bermuda Police Service.
But the tribunal also decided that the prison officers should begin to make GEHI contributions.
Delroy Duncan, lawyer for the POA, said the prison officers had a “substantial” expectation of free health insurance based on their employment contracts.
He added that, even with the increased salary, the result was a net loss for prison officers.
But the Government said most contracts offered medical care, not insurance, and claimed that they did not have a reasonable expectation they would receive free insurance.
• It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding criminal court cases. This is to prevent any statements being published that may jeopardise the outcome of that case.
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