Bus dispute hits new roadblock; BIU disputes Minister’s statement
Disruptions to bus and ferry services look set to continue after transport bosses and drivers failed to reach an agreement over Covid-19-related health and safety practices.
Yesterday morning Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport, said that the two sides were at “an impasse” on the issue, following discussions on Tuesday.
Mr Scott also revealed a new twist in the ongoing row, which is now in its sixth day – bus operators want assurances that they will be paid for any time off work taken because of the dispute.
Mr Scott insisted that Government was not prepared to agree to that – because the current action is “unlawful“
Later yesterday, Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert said that claim was “a distraction” – and that safety concerns triggered the stoppage.
Mr Furbert also said that DPT managers had agreed to spend yesterday getting vehicles fully sanitised, demonstrating that current safety standards were not sufficient.
Bus operators stopped work last Friday, claiming that their working environment was unsafe.
They called the action after more than 30 drivers were struck down with Covid-19 or had to quarantine because of close contact. Ferry pilots joined the action on Monday.
The Department of Transport maintained that safety standards were being met, and that buses were being deep-cleaned every evening.
Mr Scott said health department officials were also satisfied that safety measures were in place, and that there was no reason for drivers to remain off the job.
“The department has gone above and beyond,” he said.
He added that the Bermuda Industrial Union was now satisfied with safety standards on buses – but that the question of pay for absenteeism had created a new stumbling block.
Mr Scott said: “In these trying times, not having transportation adds additional stress, anxiety and burden to those who rely on the public bus service.
“As Minister, I feel compelled to report exactly why the commuting public has been without public buses for the last five days. The main point is that the division did not follow the law.
“Currently, the parties are at an impasse because the division wants its members to be paid for the period they withdrew service.
“The Government’s position stands. The Government cannot justify paying when the division does not comply with the law.
The commuting public was unnecessarily inconvenienced by actions that could have been addressed without leaving commuters stranded.“
According to Mr Scott, DPT management was first warned by BIU officials last Thursday that services would be withdrawn because of concerns over health and safety. The union claimed it had the right to do so under 2009 occupational safety and health regulations.
Mr Scott added: “A meeting was held between the DPT and the BIU bus division at 3pm that day. The DPT informed the division that the legislation provided for why the division was withdrawing services was incorrect. The bus division acknowledged that the provision of law provided was not correct.
“The DPT also advised that [safety] requirements listed were already in place and asked whether the bus division could be more specific.
“The no work, no pay policy was applied since the DPT believed the concerns could have been addressed without the division withdrawing labour.”
Mr Scott insisted that, while safety concerns were understandable, they were unwarranted.
He said that a health officer had examined safety protocols at the department and reported back to the ministry of health that they were satisfactory.
Mr Scott said: “She noted that there had been an increase in Covid cases, but that does not satisfy the notion of imminent danger.”
According to Mr Scott, employees have the right to report concerns, but should “remain available for work until their claim has been investigated” – something that operators failed to do.
But at yesterday afternoon’s BIU press conference, Eugene Ball, the union’s bus division president, said that the minister’s comments were “totally untrue”.
“Our members are coming to us and they are scared – this is out of control,” he said.
Mr Ball said that while management may be following protocols, current safety guidelines were insufficient to deal with the scale of the current crisis.
“You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, ” he said.
“They clean [the buses] once a day – let’s clean them four times a day.
“ Everything is changing – the numbers keep going up and everything is upside down – it’s time to beef things up.”