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BIU could ignore arbitration order over bus dispute – Furbert

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Chris Furbert, BIU president (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Bermuda Industrial Union indicated it may refuse to go to arbitration over a dispute with Government over bus rosters.

Chris Furbert, BIU president, said yesterday that talks with Government had so far proven fruitless, and he had been told the matter would be sent to the Minister of Labour so it can be sent to arbitration.

But he added that the union has no intention of going to arbitration as they believe the 2018 collective bargaining agreement is clear on the subject.

Mr Furbert said: “It’s not done through the media and it’s not done through arbitration. It’s done through the collective bargaining agreement process where we sit down and negotiate.

“Don’t hide behind arbitration. Don’t make that mistake.”

Asked what would happen if the matter was referred to arbitration, he said: “The union doesn’t often break the law, but for this issue we may be pressed to break the law.”

Related story: Seniors affected by bus strike

Government update today

A spokeswoman for the ministry of transport said: “The disruption to the public bus services continues as there has been no change following the meetings yesterday.

“The matter between the Department of Public Transportation and the Bermuda Industrial Union is now with the Ministry of Labour.”

Later, during a press conference at 2pm, Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport, said such a move would be “unfortunate”.

He added: “The only persons being affected by this are those commuters trying to get to work, those commuters who cannot afford a taxi, those commuters that don’t have a car.

“For two years the commuting public – those that use public transportation – have had to suffer inconsistencies, have had to suffer cancellations, and we want to provide the reliable, sustainable and consistent bus service for them.

“For us, the focus is on the general public. The focus is on the country.”

The dispute between the BIU and the Government was brought to light this weekend when the union released a statement saying that the bus division would stand down if the winter roster wasn’t put forward by Monday morning.

Bus service continued throughout the weekend, but halted yesterday and has yet to resume.

Mr Scott has said that the Government met its requirements under the collective bargaining agreement, and that the proposed schedule ensured “no redundancy, no loss of work hours for the operators and greater flexibility for the operators”.

But Mr Furbert said this morning that the Government had put forward a continuation of the summer schedule, which included longer work hours for operators.

Eugene Ball Jr, president of the Bus Division, said: “When you have the summer rosters, which we are doing right now, there are much longer days and we have less free weekends in them.

“Junior operators have less opportunity to spend with their families at night, and even some seniors have the same issues, and that’s why we reluctantly agree to do that for two months as we have for the past 23 years.

“Now all of a sudden, now that we have a new director on board, we seem to get new roster changes because they feel that it is more feasible for them instead of allowing the CBA to continue through.”

The union said the challenges to service were not caused by the bus rosters, but by the lack of buses and drivers – both matters that fell into the Ministry’s lap.

Mr Furbert said: “We don’t have the vehicles to do our work. That is a big impediment. We don’t have the manpower to do our work.

“We are short maybe 20 operators. They told us last year they were going to hire 24 operators. Do you know how many they hired? They hired five.”

Mr Furbert said the Progressive Labour Party has lost touch with labour and lamented a lack of communication between the Minister and the Union.

He said: “The relationship is broken. Really. The PLP has lost its way as a labour government and they need to find a way back to labour. Straight up.”

Mr Scott responded this afternoon that the Ministry had been in regular communication with the union about the issue, and that the Government was focused on doing what was right for the people of Bermuda.

He said: “We have kept our promises. We are focused on ensuring that the general public – the majority of this country – get reliable, safe and consistent bus service.

“That means we are now changing, for 12 months, the way that we usually do business.”

Mr Scott said the Ministry would receive 30 electric buses in January, which would boost the fleet enough to allow the winter schedule to resume in September 2022.

He explained that the winter roster requires 88 buses to run, but the Ministry only has 62 operational buses.

Mr Scott also said the BIU had been notified that the Government’s “no work, no pay” policy applied to the current work stoppage.

Roger Todd, the Director of the Ministry of Transport, said the request to return to the usual winter schedule was a “non-starter”.

Mr Todd said: “We did that last year. When we came to the table, we came to conciliation and management conceded.

“We presented the same case that it was an inefficient use of resources. We ended up with cancellations, we ended up with higher down time for our operators and still spending more than $1 million on minibuses.

“That is not fiscally prudent, and it is not fair to the public.”

· Have you been affected by the cancellation of bus service? E-mail us your story at news@royalgazette.com.

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Published August 18, 2021 at 11:10 am (Updated August 18, 2021 at 11:10 am)

BIU could ignore arbitration order over bus dispute – Furbert

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