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Fingers point at civil servants

BPSU president Jason Hayward speaks to the gathered at Union Square before the march to the Cabinet Building (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda Public Services Union leaders have pointed the finger directly at top Government civil servants who were members of a joint government-union working group.

They say the civil servants “failed” to find a “meagre” $5 million in Government budget cost savings, which has meant furlough days for workers are on the table as the Minister of Finance, Bob Richards, seeks to find budget savings.

The working group, set up on October 16, 2014, was tasked by the Minister of Finance with finding $67 million to meet budget goals.

Jason Hayward, the president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, reported to his members yesterday that the furlough day impasse had occurred after Bermuda Trade Union Congress working group representatives presented recommendations that would have realised between $65 million and $85 million in savings, and also included about a dozen “substantial revenue generating ideas”. However, he told his members, government officers who reviewed the joint unions proposals concluded that just $37 million in savings were practical to realise.

Government members of the joint working group, who included Cabinet Secretary Derrick Binns, Acting Deputy Head of the Civil Service Cherie Whitter, Financial Secretary Anthony Manders, along with one technical officer, one administrative officer and three hired government consultant negotiators, were able to find only $5 million in savings.

Mr Hayward wrote: “The Government presented the collective estimated savings submitted by all departments. The collective efforts of all departments equated to a meagre $5 million in savings. The members of the BTUC were furious, as we expected savings closer to the $46 million that the Minister of Finance had requested.

“The Government officials also indicated their displeasure with the collective effort from the [government] departments.

“The meeting ended with the government officials supposedly going back to the departments for further cuts.”

However, on January 8, the BTUC received a letter from Dr Binns to say that there would be no further meetings of the working group and that they would be contacted by the negotiators to continue the talks.

Mr Hayward told members: “The BTUC, angered at the correspondence, drafted a letter requesting to meet with the Premier and the Minister of Finance.”

At that meeting the Premier, Michael Dunkley, and the Minister of Finance expressed their appreciation and recognised the efforts that the unions had made, Mr Hayward reported.

But the Minister of Finance indicated that the group was still short of its target savings.

He also explained that the expenditure targets were not solely his responsibility but a demand of his creditors.

Mr Hayward said the Premier asked if the continuation of furlough days would be possible.

“The president of the BIU replied that continuation of furlough days will not come easy. He stated that furlough days end March 31 2015, and for the BTUC to ask their members to continue furloughs was not something he was prepared to do. His sentiments were shared by the other BTUC members at the table.”

Mr Hayward pointed out to the Premier and Finance Minister that the BTUC had conducted the money-saving exercise to protect wages and jobs, and, he said: “ ... the continuation of furlough days defeat the whole purpose.”

Despite union rejection of the proposal, on Friday the BTUC members were handed letters from the Minister of Finance, which stated that to meet the March 31, 2015 budget deadline, the budget development process must: “ ... conclude with immediacy.

“To this end we invite you to reconsider your position with regard to continuation of the furlough.

“If you are unable to agree to continue the furlough, the Government will be forced to take steps to achieve the necessary reduction in expenditure for 2015-16. Such measures could include a reduction in salaries of government employees equal to the savings achieved in the current financial year by the furlough.”

The Finance Minister requested a decision by noon yesterday in his letter.

Mr Hayward told members the BPSU is opposed to the continuation of furloughs for seven reasons: the efforts the BTUC have made to help Government reduce expenditure; that Government failed to contribute any meaningful savings to the working group; that many members have experienced financial hardship because of the furloughs; that members have experienced two years of pay freezes and two years of pay cuts since 2010; a 19 per cent increase in health insurance rates to start in April; that Government “plans to spend money it does not have” on America’s Cup, the Airport redevelopment and the Tourism Authority; and “Shared sacrifice is not shared.”

The BPSU is to set a date for a general membership meeting to determine its next steps.