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Back-up plan if bus and ferry dispute talks break down, says Minister

Public transportation remains at a standstill over Covid-19 concerns (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Government has a “back-up plan” for members of the public left stranded by a public transport strike, the transport minister revealed last night.

Lawrence Scott said the Government would go back to negotiations with the Bermuda Industrial Union today “first and foremost in the interest of conciliation, to make sure that we are able to find that common thread”.

But he said: “In the worst-case scenario and planning for all events, if we are unable to reach an agreement, there is a follow-up, a back-up plan the Government has ready to go, so that persons will no longer be stranded.”

But Mr Scott did not elaborate on what alternatives the Government had planned.

He was responding to questions from Scott Pearman of the One Bermuda Alliance after he delivered a statement in the House of Assembly on the weeklong halt to buses and ferries.

The statement came after the BIU insisted earlier last night that bus and ferry workers should be paid for time lost to industrial action over Covid-19 fears.

The union added that public transport would remain at a standstill until a series of requests from staff worried by potential exposure to the coronavirus were agreed to by management.

The letter, dated yesterday, said the Bus and Marine and Ports divisions of the BIU were “more than justified in requesting that we be paid for the time we have been off”.

The letter to the heads of the bus and ferry services highlighted occupational safety and health guidance for employers provided by the Government.

Buses and ferries have been hit by stoppages during the latest outbreak of Covid-19 cases.

The letter said that employers had an obligation to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of staff.

It added that “employers may see work refusal” based on confirmed cases of the virus in workplaces; in employees’ families or close contacts; where there is risk of potential exposure from “contractors, customers or clients”; and where employees are particularly vulnerable.

The letter added: “Whether or not a work refusal based on the above or other grounds is reasonable will depend on individual circumstances.”

It highlighted that employees could not be dismissed, disciplined or intimidated for “properly exercising a health and safety right”.

The bus and ferry staff have demanded deep cleaning of boats and buses as well as staff areas.

The letter also asked for the cleaning to continue on a “mutually agreed schedule”.

It added that PCR or saliva testing for the coronavirus should be organised on a bi-weekly basis so that “everyone knows their status”.

The requests finished with “no loss of pay during this shut down period”.

The letter said: “Upon completion and our satisfaction of the above request, only then can a discussion of resuming services be had with the membership.”

It added: “The Government policy of no work and no pay does not apply in this situation because these are not normal circumstances.

“In the interest of returning public transportation services back to normal so that the people who rely on the service are not inconvenienced any further, we are requesting that both departments rethink their decision of no work and no pay.”

To read the BIU letter in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published September 25, 2021 at 7:54 am (Updated September 25, 2021 at 7:54 am)

Back-up plan if bus and ferry dispute talks break down, says Minister

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