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Prison officers under pressure, Labour Day attendees told

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Labour Day marchers walk up Queen Street yesterday. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Prison officers are working in dangerous conditions as they work to manage a growing number of serious criminals, according to the chair of the Prison Officers Association.

Timothy Seon, addressing a crowd in advance of the 2022 Labour Day march, said that it was a “struggle” behind the walls at Westgate Correctional Facility.

“Prison officers are working in units without proper ventilation. If it’s 87 or 90 degrees outside, add another ten to 15 degrees inside the jail,” he said. “I do recall some people being locked up for treating their animals like that.

“Court-ordered programmes are not being made available for inmates at their parole hearing – if an inmate does not do what’s necessary in order to be considered for parole, that’s on the inmate, but at no time whatsoever, should inmates be turned away because of the inconsistency of court-ordered programmes.”

Timothy Seon, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, speaks at the Labour Day event yesterday morning. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

He added that the prison had become a “dumping ground” for people with mental health issues and staff were also managing a record number of 51 “lifers” – people sentenced to spend between 25 and 34 years behind bars.

“When the Government asked us to roll up our sleeves and put our hands in the soil we were all for it,” Mr Seon said. “But when it comes to a point where our safety is disregarded, it has to be addressed.

“Officers are on the front line. We need to be properly financed. We need the proper tools and equipment so that we can carry out our duties in a safe environment.”

He thanked his colleagues for the work they do behind the walls of the island’s prisons despite their lives being threatened on a daily basis and assaulted on a regular basis.

The comments came as union leaders spoke out to more than 200 attendees outside of the Bermuda Industrial Union headquarters.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, speaks at today’s Labour Day event in Union Square. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Chris Furbert, the president of the BIU, told the crowd that the issue of the island’s cost of living had to be addressed, noting Bermuda had the highest cost of living internationally.

He highlighted a report by a committee formed in 1970 to look at the issue, which found many of the same problems still faced today including high food and rent costs.

Nishanthi Bailey, the president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, has been reinstated as a teacher after being terminated earlier this year by the Ministry of Education.

The BUT said in January that Ms Bailey, who taught at Dellwood Middle School, had been unlawfully fired – a move which the union said was called a “resignation” by the Ministry.

Speaking at Labour Day festivities, Ms Bailey said that she had taken the matter to a tribunal and emerged victorious.

“On January 6, I received my termination – deemed resignation – letter,” she said.

“I appealed my termination, and the tribunal that was selected to make a determination, they ruled that I should be reinstated effective immediately.”

Reflecting on the theme of this year’s Labour Day celebrations – solidarity – she said that in her time of trouble she was supported by not only the BUT, but also the island’s other unions and non-unionised members of the community.

“Although I am one person, that solidarity felt by those of us who believe in fighting for upholding justice is important,” she said.

Mr Furbert said the committee made 13 recommendations, including price controls on essential foods and items.

“This report was given in 1971,” he said. “For 27 years after the report, the United Bermuda Party Government did absolutely nothing to help the people of this country as far as the cost of living goes.

“November 1998, the Progressive Labour Party gets elected and they are the government for 14 years. The cost of living? Still extremely high.

“The One Bermuda Alliance wins the Government, and still nothing. The PLP was re-elected in 2017 and since then we have had conversations about food costs, maybe about healthcare costs.

“The overall expenditure is too high, and until we can all agree on that, you can put a band aid here and there, but the whole expenditure needs to come down.”

Members of the Bermuda Public Service Union take part in the Labour Day Parade (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Nadine Henry, third vice-president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, highlighted the hard work that civil servants across the island have carried out in difficult circumstances.

“Many workers stayed on the front lines, often at risk to their own health, to ensure that Bermuda effectively managed the far-reaching impacts,” she said. “Many workers took on additional roles and responsibilities.

“There’s no way anybody could believe the public service is overstocked – we are understaffed.

“To this day, many workers extend themselves without additional pay because we love our country.”

Selena Fields, vice-president of the Bermuda Entertainment Union, said Bermuda’s performers had had to become more creative in the past two years because of the difficulty in performing in public.

“We are so grateful for the support that we receive from all of you, all around Bermuda, and that includes not only our members but those of you who love your Bermudian entertainers,” she said.

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Published September 06, 2022 at 8:02 am (Updated September 06, 2022 at 4:45 pm)

Prison officers under pressure, Labour Day attendees told

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