Rising tensions at Westgate prison
Prison officers could take industrial action over conditions at Westgate jail, the head of their representative body warned yesterday.
Tim Seon, the chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said he could not rule out the potential for labour disruption if a string of problems were not dealt with.
Mr Seon added: “We are going to exhaust all avenues.”
He said: “There is a growing frustration and if we don’t see any movement soon, that is where it could go.
“I have to call another meeting with my membership in about three weeks.”
Mr Seon was speaking after he invited politicians to tour Westgate to see the conditions officers and prisoners had to put up with.
Mr Seon predicted a tour of the prison would shock MPs and ministers.
The veteran officer said he had been in talks with the Government’s Public Service Negotiating Team and the Bermuda Trade Union Congress over disputes that dated back 20 years.
He said that a tour of Westgate would be a good way for those responsible for the prison service “to see exactly what it is that we do, and the conditions in which we work”.
He added: “They see black and white.
“They crunch the numbers and they don’t see how it affects the people on the front line actually doing the task.
“I find that to be the biggest issue, right now.”
Mr Seon said: “If they take us up on that offer, they are going to see the truth.
“They are going to see the problems that are facing the men and women who work behind those walls and, even worse still, the individuals who have to live there.
“There are very inhumane conditions behind those walls. They say Bermuda is another world, and behind those walls, it is very much true.”
Mr Seon added that prison officers have not had a pay increase for a decade, had hit a wall in negotiations over health insurance and that health and safety at the prison was compromised by a range of problems, including mould.
He said that the BTUC had also written a letter to the Government in support of the association’s plea for better pay and conditions,
Mr Seon added: “The BTUC has agreed to put forth a formal letter in regards to the negotiation process with the outstanding associations.
“We have not had any salary increase in ten years; we are working roughly at about 22.5 per cent below the cost of living.
“It is encouraging to have the support of the BTUC, I’m a bit more optimistic.
“I don’t think the Public Service Negotiating Team fully understands our need for the Government Employee Health Insurance benefit.
“Prison officers are working in sick buildings with mould.
“We have seen other government services refuse, or even close down, because of mould.
That includes schools, the police department, and the Chief Justice refused to work out of Supreme Court Three because of mould.
“We are stuck here because where are you going to put the inmates?”
Mr Seon said that Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, had asked to meet him to discuss complaints.
Mr Caines issued a statement on Sunday to say that his ministry recognised “the critical and important work that the members of our uniformed services undertake on a daily basis.”
He highlighted that the ministry had met with the Prison Officers Association five times last year to discuss the matters raised with some success including the hiring of 21 new prison officers over the year and the commencement of a recruitment drive for 25 more.
Mr Caines added: “To ensure continuity and focus, this ministry championed the creation and implementation of a strategic plan. And to ensure transparency and collaboration we invited the POA to be a part of the strategic planning process.”
Mr Caines highlighted progress in security at the facility including updated CCTV and fire alarm systems, and infrastructure upgrades including tank repairs, air quality tests and a “stringent” cleaning regime.
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