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Firefighters’ dispute referred to labour relations tribunal

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Firefighters in action at a major blaze on Front Street in 2016 (File photograph)

A dispute between firefighters and the service’s management has been referred to arbitration after the two sides failed to reach agreement.

It is understood key factors in the stand-off included concerns about safety, equipment and working conditions.

Jason Hayward, the labour minister, declared the clash between the Bermuda Fire Service Association an official dispute and sent it to the Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal in a bid to reach a resolution.

Mr Hayward also warned union members that they must not take industrial action while the tribunal examined the deadlock.

The dispute between firefighters and the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service came after Renee Ming, the national security minister, admitted earlier this year that the island’s emergency services were plagued by staff shortages, dilapidated buildings and ageing equipment.

Funding for the Bermuda Fire and Rescue service was cut by $1.24 million to $13.1 million in the last Budget.

Ms Ming added that money was also saved through the defunding of five unfilled firefighter posts.

The fire service’s training budget was slashed by half, to $151,000 and the amount available for the repair and maintenance of vehicles was also cut, by 298,000, down from $583,000 to $285,000.

Jason Hayward, the labour minister (File photograph)

A source close to the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service told The Royal Gazette earlier this year: “The facts are that expired equipment, broken vehicles and mental burnout will eventually catch up – and lives will be lost.

“Firefighters are of the opinion that government has gambled with their safety for years, which means that they've been gambling with the lives of Bermudians by extension.”

The source added: “A dangerously ageing fleet of vehicles has seen numerous instances of breakdowns in the middle of emergency responses and a lack of equipment to outfit all vehicles adequately results in officers having to change equipment from one vehicle to the next, hoping that another emergency doesn't manifest during the time-consuming process.”

The source said: “When confronted, BFRS management simply point to their budget allocation from the Government to show that adequate money is simply not provided, despite constant requests made.”

Labour relations law rules that “any lockout, strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike is unlawful …” after a dispute has been referred to arbitration and that offenders would “be liable to a civil penalty as may be imposed by the Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal”.

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Published December 04, 2021 at 7:31 am (Updated December 04, 2021 at 7:31 am)

Firefighters’ dispute referred to labour relations tribunal

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