Uniformed services turn down austerity
The Premier felt “profound disappointment” when unions for two uniformed services rejected a government cost-cutting package in the wake of the financial crisis cause by the Covid-19 pandemic.
David Burt said yesterday that other steps to make savings would be made after Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, announced that the Fire Services Association and the Prison Officers Association had failed to back a programme of cuts.
The Premier said: “It was our hope, and that was the reason and spirit in which we entered the negotiations with the Bermuda Trade Union Congress and all of our public sector unions, to agree a series of measures that would preserve employment throughout the Public Service to ensure that there cannot be an additional hardship.
“What we have to recognise and remember is that the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Finance are supporting approximately now 4,000 unemployed Bermudians due to this pandemic.
“What we wanted and what we felt we arrived at was an arrangement that would see no impact on individual's take-home pay, a small sacrifice in overall compensation to enable the Government to continue to meet obligations throughout the community.”
Mr Furbert said on Wednesday: “Regrettably neither the Fire Services Association nor the Prison Officers Association have agreed to participate in the austerity measures programme.”
He added that the Government would have to implement rigid payroll measures in the prisons and fire service to achieve the needed savings.
Mr Furbert said: “The likely outcome for these officers, who are members of the uniform services unions, is likely reduced monthly income given their decision not to participate in the austerity measures programme, which was specifically designed to protect the earning power of public officers.”
The Bermuda Public Services Union, the Bermuda Industrial Union, and the Bermuda Union of Teachers agreed to cost-saving measures from August 1 for most public officers.
The package will come into effect on September 1 for teachers and principals.
Mr Furbert said that the Bermuda Police Association had still to respond.
He added that “every effort has been made to achieve a ‘win-win' outcome with the uniformed services unions”.
The minister said: “Thoughtful consideration was given to all areas of concern expressed by the unions and several commitments were made to overcome issues and impediments.”
But he added: “In light of the current climate, it is disappointing that we could not reach agreement with the uniformed services unions to aid the people of this country during these challenging times.
“Nevertheless, we are most grateful to the BPSU, the BIU, and the BUT, who have worked with us to avoid mass layoffs or forced early retirement by agreeing measures that will save the taxpayers millions of dollars.
“I take this opportunity to thank these partners, and by extension our dedicated public officers, for their active engagement and willingness to work with us in the best interest of Bermuda.”
The Premier said yesterday that he was grateful that the BIU, the BPSU, the BUT and their members “answered the call to make sure that we can work as a community” to support people.
He noted Mr Furbert had pointed out earlier that “other measures” would be needed to make savings.
Mr Burt added: “The Minister of National Security will certainly be speaking to those measures going forward.”
He said: “We cannot be fair to all unions if we do not apply the same across the board, so it is unfortunate.”
The Premier added: “We have been incredibly reasonable in this effort, the Government — in my view — has gone above and beyond.”
Nakia Pearson, the FSA president, said that the organisation was considering a “rebuttal ... in light of the information released by the Government”.
Timothy Seon, of the POA, could not be contacted for comment.
• To view a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”