Furbert rejects talk of redundancies rethink
Proposed temporary changes to employment law to help employers get round the legal requirement to make a laid-off worker redundant after four months were attacked yesterday by a union leader.
Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said he opposed any change to the Employment Act to allow employers to ignore the four-month rule.
He was speaking after David Burt, the Premier, said on Monday that the Government would not be inclined to tamper with the legislation because “we're not going to use this pandemic to relax protections on workers”.
Mr Furbert said: “The comments the Premier made on Monday evening were right on point. The Government is not about to roll back the conditions on the Employment Act that's going to see a disadvantage to non-organised workers.”
He said the legislation was clear that redundancy had to be paid out if staff were out of work for four months.
Mr Furbert added: “It's from the time you make the decision to close your business.”
The Bermuda Hotel Association and the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce wrote to the Government last month to warn that the four-month rule on redundancy posed a threat to their businesses.
The groups said that having to make severance payments could mean the end for businesses already devastated by months of Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Furbert said the four-month stipulation had not caused an outcry from employers in 2003, when the island was hammered by Hurricane Fabian.
He added: “For them now to say the Employment Act is a threat because of what's happened, let me just remind the country what happened in Hurricane Fabian.
“We had hotels closed for months. Nobody was fired for redundancy then, so why all of a sudden now? You have to be concerned about this.”
Mr Furbert also highlighted what he said was a request by employers for temporary amendments to the Employment Act to “apply to all collective bargaining agreements” with unions.
He asked: “You honestly think that we have an Act now, and it clearly states that the agreements supersede the Act, and now you're going to implement something that's going to supersede the agreements? You think the unions are going to agree to that?”
Mr Furbert said employers had behaved as though “they want to address it yesterday”.
He added that bus drivers were unhappy at the news announced on Monday that capacity on buses was to be raised from nine passengers to 17.
The extra capacity was revealed by Zane DeSilva, the Minister of Tourism and Transport, at a press conference updating the public on Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Furbert said the change had been agreed with the Department of Public Transportation, but “was not properly communicated to the union, as it should have been”.
Patrick Hayward Sr, the president of the union's bus drivers and allied workers division, said: “We do not feel comfortable at 17 people.”
Mr Hayward said that “17, to us, doesn't add up”, given a maximum bus capacity of 38 people.
He added that ferries were running at 25 per cent capacity and the equivalent for buses would be ten people, not 17.
Mr Hayward said: “We have never seen the facts of what they're dealing with. We're just going by what they came up with.”
He added that he had seen a maximum of seven to nine passengers at a time on his bus route.
Mr Hayward said that bus drivers had “fought hard” to get masks and hand sanitisers at the start of the pandemic.”
He added: “We were told we didn't need it at first.
“I will say this. The mask is good for short distances, but it's not good for long distances. If you keep that mask on for a long time, you're breathing in carbon dioxide.”
Eugene Ball Jr, the secretary of the bus service division, said that drivers operated under unusual conditions that made some restrictions difficult for them.
He explained: “When you're looking at a bus operator, you're constantly turning the steering wheel, looking left and right, backwards and forwards. The mask moves, the mask shifts — we have a lot of different things that happen.”
Mr Ball said: “All these things come into play when you're operating a vehicle that's as big as it is on the public roads.”
He added masks became uncomfortable over an hour-long journey from St George's to Hamilton.
Mr Hayward said: “You have to constantly shift the mask and the air flow isn't as successful as well.”
He added bus drivers were examining the problems they faced with a view to coming up with recommendations.