BIU ratifies agreement but buses remain off the roads
Buses services remain sidelined this afternoon, despite hopes that a resolution to the three-day dispute had been found.
An agreement, which was thrashed out last night following late night negotiations, was expected to be rubber stamped in a union vote this morning, with drivers returning to work by noon.
But at 3pm today services had still not resumed and there was no sign of activity at the Hamilton bus station.
Government has yet to provide any update on the situation. Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport, was to hold a press conference at 4pm today, but that has now been cancelled.
A spokeswoman for the ministry said that a statement will be issued later today.
Meanwhile, the Bermuda Industrial Union has called a press conference regarding the bus service tomorrow morning.
In a statement issued this afternoon, a union spokeswoman said that the agreement was ratified by drivers at this morning’s meeting. But no explanation was given as to why services had not resumed.
The spokeswoman said: “The BIU would like to make it clear to the public that the present bus service dispute is not the responsibility of the members of the bus division of the BIU.
“As was reported, the BIU and the department of public transportation reached a tentative agreement last evening. That agreement was ratified by the members of the bus division this morning and they were ready to go to work.
“We will update the public further tomorrow morning at a press conference.”
Hopes that the industrial action was over were first raised last night by David Burt, the Premier.
In a tweet Mr Burt said: “Resolution has been reached on bus issue, details on service resumption to be issued later this evening.”
And a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Transport said: “This evening, the Department of Public Transportation and the Bermuda Industrial Union met, and a tentative agreement was reached.
“It will be proposed at a BIU Bus Division members meeting at 8am tomorrow. If ratified, it is anticipated that the service will resume at around noon.”
The dispute was sparked by the Government’s decision to continue the summer bus schedule into the winter instead of reverting to the winter schedule.
Government has said the move would help to ensure consistent service with fewer cancellations, but the Bermuda Industrial Union said the Government had acted in breach of a collective bargaining agreement and the summer schedule placed additional strain on drivers.
Ahead of last night’s talks, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labour said: “It is hoped that the outcome of this evening's meeting will lead to an agreement that is in the best interest of the workers, the public bus service users and the Government.”
Speaking for the first time on the dispute, Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour, said the strike was hampering efforts to rebuild the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: "The Government continues to address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic and jobs crisis, in addition to the many initiatives to restart Bermuda's economy.
“A stoppage of public bus transportation is not desirable under these conditions."
Earlier yesterday, 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.”
Antoine Wade, the vice president of the BIU’s bus division, said at a press conference earlier this week that bus operators have worked through challenging conditions for a long time.
“We are short of buses, we are short of manpower,” he said. “Over the last year they promised us 24 drivers, then they dropped it down to 15.
“We had five in the last year and one quit. Not to mention the amount of bus drivers of age that are starting to retire.
“We understand the situation the Government are in, we understand the position the country is in, but we are working under some serious situations right now.”
Mr Wade estimated that 70 per cent of the buses in operation do not have air conditioning, which caused additional strain for drivers in the warmer months.
“It is 100 degrees plus on those buses, especially with the plastic shield and wearing a mask,” he said.
In addition to the heat, Mr Wade said working through the pandemic had been stressful for drivers who have to deal with passengers who do not want to deal with Covid-19 rules.
“About 70 per cent of passengers never want to sanitise and they wear their mask when they get on the bus, but then they get to the back and they pull the mask off,” he said.
“We are constantly pleading with people to wear their masks, and it becomes stressful because we are talking all day, every day about sanitising and wearing masks.
“Us drivers, we incur a lot, we take on a lot and a lot of people don’t know the stress we go through as bus operators.”
He recalled an incident several months ago in which a bus driver was punched while working in St David’s, and said other drivers have been spat on and ill treated by passengers.
“We deal with a lot,” Mr Wade said. “I look forward to the day that they make it a federal offence, like they do in the United States. That’s what we need because we have no protection.”
Mr Wade said that the bus drivers hoped to shift to the winter roster in part because of the long hours required under the summer schedule.
“Most people start work in the dark and go home when it’s dark,” he said.
Mr Wade added that many junior operators don’t get set rosters in the summer schedule, which means they have to bounce between routes across the island on any given day.
He asked: “For those that have families and children, what time do they have to deal with their families and their outside life when they don’t know where they are going to be or what they are going to be doing?
“I have heard from supervisors that they would prefer the winter roster because it is easier to piece work together. It’s easier to manoeuvrer around the winter work than it is the summer work.”
Mr Wade added that while the Government is concerned about cancellations, the removal of school runs from the winter roster would largely address that issue.
School runs are not included in the summer schedule, which Government seeks to extend, with the Ministry of Transport saying that an alternative would be put in place.
Mr Wade said bus drivers were eager to return to work, but Government had told them that a return to the winter roster was “not an option”.
“We are doing our best. We want to work,” he said.
“We understand the public is suffering right now and we apologise, but how many times are they going to keep flogging us and flogging us?”