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Bus dispute referred to labour tribunal

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

A dispute that brought public bus services to a standstill for 11 days could continue today – even though the deadlock has been referred to a labour tribunal.

Jason Hayward, the labour minister, made the referral earlier yesterday – which made continuation of a bus staff strike illegal.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said yesterday that members had yet to make a decision on a return to work.

Mr Furbert said the union had asked for legal advice about referral of the dispute to arbitration.

He said there would be a meeting of the BIU’s extended general council today to update them on the dispute.

The Government yesterday drafted in a fleet of private minibuses today to provide a skeleton service.

Lawrence Scott, the minister of transport, insisted yesterday that the Government would not budge from its position and that minibuses were on standby to run tomorrow if bus drivers failed to show up for work.

Mr Scott added that the temporary service was costing taxpayers $8,000 a day.

But Mr Furbert said that the union could hold a protest against the minibus drivers, who he branded “scab labour”.

The dispute began on September 17, when bus operators withdrew their labour over concerns about Covid-19.

The problem was resolved five days later after the Government was able to satisfy workers that safety measures such as deep-cleaning were being implemented.

But a fresh row erupted when the BIU said that staff should be paid for any time they took off work as a result of the health scare. The Government is refusing to pay wages, insisting that the stoppage was illegal.

Mr Furbert maintained yesterday that the dispute was a health and safety one and not a labour dispute.

He said: “We had over 30 people off the job at DPT, and they tell us to wait. So we should wait for what – for our people at DPT to die before they shut the service down?“

Mr Furbert added that the situation met the standard of “imminent danger”, which would justify the workplace being closed.

He said the union had only asked for the bus service to stop for three days so a deep clean could be carried out.

Mr Furbert also disagreed with earlier claims by Mr Scott that the union had failed to follow procedures for a health and safety complaint, which could have taken weeks to be investigated.

He thanked minibus drivers who had refused to take part in the Government’s contingency service and appealed to others to do the same.

Mr Furbert said the BIU would back minibus operators on a health and safety complaint and they should do the same for the union.

Mr Furbert added that the Government knew the union could not hold an in-person general meeting because of the Covid-19 outbreak and restrictions on gatherings.

He said the union had been caught at its weakest point.

But Mr Scott insisted that the strike was illegal and unnecessary and that the Government had acted in the interests of the public.

He said that bus staff “should have remained available for work until the outcome of any investigation of their concerns”.

Mr Scott added: “In this circumstance, the Government is entitled to deduct DPT employees' pay … this means the Government is not required to pay the employees for any part of their time away from work.

“The ministry stands by its policy of ‘no work, no pay’.”

Mr Scott said: “It must be appreciated that in filling its mandate to protect the interests of the people they represent, which is the general public, I activated the ministry's emergency transportation plan.

“The minibuses are operating by the Ministry of Health's guidance for public transportation. Therefore, commuters will already be familiar with the requirements for mask-wearing and hand sanitising.

“The matter has been referred to the Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal for settlement.”

Mr Scott added: “We anticipate that the bus service will return to the regularly scheduled service tomorrow.”

* This story has been updated to include comments from the Minister of Transport, Lawrence Scott.

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Published September 28, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated September 28, 2021 at 8:01 am)

Bus dispute referred to labour tribunal

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