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Public workers wait to see if Govt will pursue pay cut negotiations

With Government debt at its statutory limit, the country’s public workers are waiting patiently to see whether pay cut negotiations will be pursued by the new administration.

The One Bermuda Alliance Government is saying little about its intentions, having only been in office for just three weeks, but the Bermuda Police Association and the Bermuda Public Services Union — two of six unions which represent public service workers — are ready to talk.

“The Executive have instructed the General Secretary of the BPSU to make contact with the new government ASAP so that we may have some introductions and preliminary discussions on how we can move forward on negotiations and other pressing issues.

“However we are well aware of the protocols and procedures that must be put in place before we start sitting at the table,” said Kevin Grant, president of the BPSU, which represents about 1,800 government workers.

“As a service we would want to do what is in the best interests of both our members and the country,” said Kevin Christopher, president of the BPA.

“We would not close ourselves off to any discussion.”

The previous administration had been hoping to realise about $60 million in savings this financial year by freezing pensions contributions and imposing a matching pay cut for its 8,000 workers.

While the unions involved appeared willing to go for the deal when it was proposed earlier last year, negotiations hit a snag when it emerged that the Police Association could not, for legal reasons, agree to it.

The unions had agreed that the deal could only go ahead if all public workers were involved.

According to Mr Christopher, the PLP Government were supposed to present fresh proposals to the unions but never did.

Mr Grant said that the previous administration had taken the pension contribution freeze proposal off the table and had indicated it would meet each of the unions separately to discuss the status of their collective bargaining agreements.

“This, of course, was information received from the previous government so I do not know with the new government whether or not this position has changed — hence the reason why the BPSU would like to sit down with the new government as soon as possible.”

Mr Grant added that both sides would need to be “far more creative and innovative when it comes to negotiations” given the economic conditions.

“As negotiators for the BPSU, regardless of what is put on the negotiation table we are guided by the membership. However it is up to the BPSU negotiation team to provide as much factual information and statistics so that the members can make informed decisions.”

Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert said he could not comment as his union had not been approached by the new government.

On Thursday, we submitted queries to the Finance Ministry seeking an update.

“Government don’t comment on union negotiations,” said a Finance Ministry spokesperson.

But Finance Minister Bob Richards said Government was still assessing the country’s finances.

At $1.4 billion, Government debt is just $50 million shy of the debt ceiling which was revised upwards to $1.45 billion in March.

The OBA promised during its election campaigning that it would reduce the debt, but it would not make a commitment not to raise the debt ceiling.

But the party has also made a commitment to cut the costs of Government without laying off public workers.

Salaries and wages amount to about half of the government’s $1 billion budget for 2012/13.

Last year Mr Richards, then Shadow Finance Minister criticised the PLP Government for failing to conclude negotiations with the unions saying that the lack of progress demonstrated “indecisiveness and lack of leadership”.

“I don’t know what the deal is here but it is somewhat disconcerting when you go thorough the trouble of trying to rein in government expenses and you don’t have the testicular fortitude to go through with it,” he told

The Royal Gazette in August.

“We have to be decisive in order to change course here,” he added.

As Finance Minister, Mr Richards now has about a month to make some decisions about the budget for the next fiscal year which begins in April and which has to be presented to Parliament for approval next month.

Government also has the challenge of dealing with an underfunded pension fund. The previous government had hoped to conduct a thorough review during the one year pension freeze period proposed to the unions.

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Published January 08, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 07, 2013 at 11:18 pm)

Public workers wait to see if Govt will pursue pay cut negotiations

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