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ʽNo more action’ by transport workers after bus row

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Chris Furbert, BIU President, says the dispute with the Government over the bus service will go to arbitration. At right is Eugene Ball, president of the public transportation division of the BIU. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Eugene Ball, president of the public transportation division of the BIU. He asked for the public to be patient with the drivers during the new Sunday bus schedule at a press conference (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Bus drivers will take no further action in a long-running dispute with the Government over lost pay, a union leader confirmed yesterday.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said the decision, made on Tuesday night, came despite a failure to reach a resolution on pay while bus staff were off the job.

Drivers walked off the job on September 17 because of Covid-19 health and safety fears.

The dispute was resolved five days later but a new row broke out after drivers said they should be paid for the time they were off work.

The BIU said staff were off work because of a health and safety problem, not a labour dispute.

Mr Furbert emphasised that bus staff did not return to work last Wednesday because the dispute had been referred to arbitration.

He said they agreed to return to work on the understanding that Mr Burt was in negotiations with the union.

Mr Furbert added staff had accepted an offer of 50 per cent pay over the time of the dispute, with one day’s vacation – but also wanted a sick day added.

He said the Government had agreed to the extra vacation day but not the sick day.

Mr Furbert added: “They went back to work in good faith and they can’t understand why this matter can’t be resolved.

“The workers have taken a decision that they will accept the Government’s offer of 50 per cent pay, with one day vacation and the union will continue to fight for the one other day.”

Mr Furbert said operators were “infuriated” by the Government offer – but voted last night not to take further action.

He added: “Every time a labour dispute has been referred to arbitration, the BIU has always gone back to work once that notice has been issued.

Mr Furbert said: “I just cannot understand why Government is standing firm on its position.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why we’re still having this conversation about just one day.”

He warned: “This will not happen again. Any time, whether it’s the bus division or any other division is off, before they go back to work we’re getting something in writing, these are the conditions and the workers are clear now and can go back to work. Because to just leave things to chance …”

The dispute was referred to arbitration last Tuesday and drivers returned to work on Wednesday – but only after Mr Furbert held talks with David Burt, the Premier, to try to resolve the deadlock.

Mr Furbert said: “We said to the Premier, while the matter was referred for settlement, it was not a labour dispute. The union made it clear from day one it was a health and safety issue.

“The issue of pay belongs to the same issue – you can’t separate the two.

“That to us is the Government or employer hiding behind the law. It appears the law is meant for the workers but isn’t meant for anybody else.”

Mr Furbert said that drivers were often criticised on social media because of service disruptions.

He added: “I want to give the operators a lot of credit here. I want to thank the public for their patience while the services were shut down, but in the interests of the public they chose a decision last night so that the public is not further inconvenienced.

“The public should not be penalised right now because we’re having a conversation with Government about one further day. I think the operators need to be given a lot of credit for them taking the decision that they took last night.

“I want to say thank you for the bus division for giving consideration to the general public by not shutting down the service again because this one day of pay is in question.”

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Published October 07, 2021 at 7:41 am (Updated October 07, 2021 at 7:41 am)

ʽNo more action’ by transport workers after bus row

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