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‘Come to work and get sent back home’, the revolving door of sickness and quarantine

Out of action: the Covid-19 pandemic has hit transport staffing levels hard (File photograph)

Public sector staff face a “revolving door” of sickness and quarantine because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was claimed yesterday.

Bus and ferry service representatives said that schedules had been devastated by mass absenteeism – with staff unable to work after repeated contacts with the coronavirus.

The Bermuda Industrial Union claimed that transport employees returned to work after an enforced 14-day quarantine break – but were sent home again days later after another encounter with the coronavirus.

Ceblle Dawson, the president of the Marine and Ports division of the BIU, revealed that 22 ferry workers are currently off duty because of Covid-19. The virus has sidelined one third of ferry staff.

Ms Dawson added: “Three weeks ago, Marine and Ports ended up with 30 people out because of persons testing positive.

“The service was running – we were very short-staffed, but we made it through.

“Last week we had a group of gentlemen come back to work after being off for two weeks.

“This group of gentlemen had to return home the very first day that they came back to work for another 14 days.

“Marine and Ports has turned into a revolving door – ‘come to work and then get sent back home’. Every time you come to work, somebody else is being sent home and nothing’s being done.”

Antoine Wade, the deputy president of the BIU’s bus division, said that bus drivers faced similar problems.

Mr Wade added: “What is concerning for me is that we had about 25 members pull out in one day and yet Government, or the directors – management – didn’t seem to think that was a problem.”

Public transport workers have refused to work since last Friday amid fears that their work environment was unsafe.

The Government has declared the stoppage illegal and claimed that safety regulations were being observed.

But the BIU countered that existing rules were no longer adequate to contain the coronavirus and protect staff.

Eugene Ball, the president of the BIU’s bus division, said the union had suggested solutions, but had been ignored.

He added: “We can have a shut down for three days – Friday Saturday and Sunday – to have the entire facility deep-cleaned. Management refused.

“Yet we have more than five people out testing positive and over 30 out because of close contact.

“We’re at the point where we’ve stretched out the service to a bare minimum just to keep it running.”

Mr Ball said: “The BIU takes a stand for safety and health, and we’re getting penalised.

“Government can shut down a restaurant for one person testing positive and yet we’re going to sit up here and you have a Government department that has more than five cases – probably closer to ten – and you’re not going to shut it down?

“Show us how were doing something wrong, besides taking care of our wellbeing.”

Mr Ball added: “People are dying from this disease. This fight is about our safety across the entire island and Government is making it sound like it’s okay – ‘you’re sanitised, get back to work.’ That’s all we’re worth?

Mr Ball highlighted that the BIU-run gas station on Dundonald Street closed after just one member of staff contracted Covid-19.

He said: “They shut it down, they got everyone tested, they got it deep-cleaned – which is what any right-thinking place is supposed to do.

“I do understand that we have to move the people. I do understand that people rely on public transportation.

“But when we met with management in the early stages, we begged and pleaded with them – ‘look, the numbers are going through the roof’.

“If we could shut down from Monday through Friday, get the buildings deep-cleaned, get the buses deep-cleaned and sanitised, double up on the cleaning of the buses every day – buses are an enclosed space and the air’s not circulating – that would give us the time to hit the reset button.

“That’s all we were asking.”

The Government last week admitted acknowledged public sector workers were struggling to cope with regular schedules.

Derrick Binns, the head of the Civil Service, said that trash collections, postal deliveries, and other services were affected because so many staff were absent because of the pandemic.

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Published September 23, 2021 at 7:49 am (Updated September 23, 2021 at 7:49 am)

‘Come to work and get sent back home’, the revolving door of sickness and quarantine

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