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Change at the top for union

Kevin Grant is this week replacing Armell Thomas as Bermuda Public Services Union president.

Mr Thomas yesterday revealed he is stepping down after six years in which he frequently clashed with Government and helped orchestrate one of the most significant protest marches of recent times.

Mr Grant, 47, a vice president throughout Mr Thomas' spell in charge, yesterday vowed to keep open communications with Government to keep the peace despite the threat of overtime cuts and wage freezes.

Both are confident relations will remain better under Premier Paula Cox than with her predecessor Ewart Brown, whose refusal to follow proper processes or allow discussion, angered union bosses.

Mr Grant, a senior service officer in the Planning Department, was elected unopposed and assumes the role at the end of this week's BPSU delegates conference.

One of his first tasks will be to resume negotiations with Ms Cox over cuts likely to affect civil servants.

During her Budget Statement last month, Ms Cox pledged no public sector jobs would go, although she warned vacancies would remain unfilled in many cases; overtime will be cut from $18 million to $11 million in the next fiscal year.

At a meeting in January, civil servants were offered a 1.25 percent pay increase, but they turned it down as it meant temporary jobs could go.

Mr Grant told

The Royal Gazette: “I'm excited to be taking on this position. I think most of the challenges will be dealing with the economy but I think the union has put itself in a good position.

“We have had some talks and we are going to be able to inform our members on a consistent basis. Negotiations are still to take place but in the beginning I'm positive.

“It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the economy is in a bad shape. I think the Premier has laid the foundation for consultation to take place so we start off on the right foot.”

Mr Thomas was a key player in the historic demonstration of June 2008, when thousands of angry civil servants, police officers and teachers marched on Parliament, backed by sympathisers from the Bermuda Industrial Union.

BPSU members were protesting against Government's rejection of a binding arbitration award; they complained Dr Brown's administration was not listening to their concerns.

Mr Thomas said yesterday: “These guys are going to have to do a lot of communicating with Government, trying to stimulate the economy and trying to embrace public service is very important.

“The relationship with the Cox administration, I'm quite happy with. I think the unions are going to get real far in regard to getting things done with the Cox administration. The Premier has been keen to talk across the table.

“Dr Brown was a person that was straightforward, to the point. He didn't really give two damns about the process.

“Whatever he wanted to do was fast. He couldn't wait for that process. They said he was accessible, but no. You didn't have enough time. If you got with him, he would get up to rush and everything else. It was always a last minute type of thing.”

Mr Grant said of his new challenge: “At first, when you see the issues that Armell has to deal with, it seems daunting. I have always thought it would be difficult for whoever follows in Armell's footsteps.

“But I have got some insoles: experience and knowledge from years under Mr Thomas. And it's the membership that gives you that support and spurs you on. I'm getting more and more excited about taking on this challenge.”

Mr Grant said he would be a listening president “to make sure he represents his membership to the fullest”, and would push for more “lunch and learn” sessions to empower members.

lUseful website: www.bpsu.bm

Photo by Tamell Simons BPSU incoming president Kevin Grant (left) and outgoing President Armell Thomas .

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Published March 09, 2011 at 8:38 am (Updated March 09, 2011 at 8:38 am)

Change at the top for union

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