Govt hits back over bus driver dispute
Union bosses are demanding that a female bus driver is reinstated after Government “failed to follow” the agreed drugs policy.
The bus driver has been at home without pay for about seven weeks after an accident, which resulted in a passenger needing hospital treatment.
Two buses collided when passengers were being transferred from one bus to the other in Paget on Friday, June 24, and a female passenger was taken to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital with minor arm injuries.
When one of the bus drivers returned to work on Monday, June 27, she was asked to take a urine drugs test. She refused “on principle” as the Public Transportation Department had not informed her union shop steward.
The bus driver was then suspended from her job as her bosses continued to insist she took a hair follicle drugs test
Last night Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert informed the Transport Ministry they had 24 hours to reinstate her will full pay and benefits. Mr Furbert is threatening further action unless the driver is reinstated by 10pm today.
Mr Furbert said even though the accident involved two bus drivers, only one of them was asked for a drugs test.
He also pointed out the woman continued to drive the number seven bus to Dockyard immediately after the accident and was only asked to be drug tested when she returned to work three days later.
Mr Furbert said: “From day one the drugs policy hasn't been followed. They can't change the policy like this, they have to be consistent”.
This afternoon the Transport Ministry hit back, issuing a statement.
The statement said: “The bus operator in question, a four-year employee, has been given five opportunities since the accident on Friday, June 24 to take a substance abuse test in accordance with internal policy. Each time, the operator has refused to take a substance abuse test.
“The Ministry said that in accordance with internal policy, a condition of employment at the Department of Public Transportation (DPT) is that, if a bus operator is involved in an accident that causes an injury to a person that requires that person to go to the hospital, then the operator must undergo a substance abuse test. If the tests results are positive, the bus operator is not automatically dismissed but is referred to EAP with full pay and benefits while he or she receives the appropriate treatment and counseling.
“In this particular incident, the operator in question was on route to Dockyard when power problems with the bus resulted in the driver pulling the bus into a lay-by and summoning a back-up bus to carry the passengers on to their destinations. By the time the replacement bus arrived, a second bus, also on a westerly route had pulled into the bus lay-by behind the failed bus. The replacement bus was forced to pull up along side the failed bus, effectively blocking the western lane as passengers disembarked and boarded the replacement bus.
“The operator in question, upon leaving the disabled bus, failed to secure the handbrake and the bus rolled into the replacement bus and trapped the hand of a passenger that was attempting to board it. At this point, the operator rushed back to the bus and prevented it rolling further by opening the door which acts as an auto- stop mechanism. The Police arrived, took the injured passenger to KEMH for treatment and then instructed the operator to move on.
“In accordance with Ministry policy, the operator that caused the accident should have immediately reported the incident to DPT but failed to do so and, even though the operator had been instructed by the police to move the bus, the operator should have pulled into the next available lay-by and reported the accident to allow DPT to send an investigator to the bus while all of the witnesses were still on board. Instead, the operator continued on to Dockyard.
“The bus operator that brought the replacement bus called DPT Headquarters to ask why the supervisor was allowing the first operator to continue on her route knowing that an accident had taken place. This was the first time that the supervisor had heard about the accident. As a result, the operator was radioed and instructed to report to the head office immediately where a substance abuse test would be administered, in accordance with policy. The operator agreed to come in but later reported sick for the weekend.
“When the operator reported for work the following Monday, she refused to be tested for substance abuse and was suspended with pay while investigations continued. The following day, the operator was again given an opportunity to be tested for substance abuse but refused and was suspended without pay until she agreed to be tested. On two other occasions, the operator had initially agreed to be tested but after arrangements were made by DPT, the operator again refused to do so. The Ministry said that a Health and Safety investigation has determined that the operator was solely to blame for the accident.”
It added: “Contrary to claims by Bermuda Industrial Union President, Chris Furbert that the Ministry had failed to get a urine test from the operator after the accident the operator had in fact, refused to report to DPT as instructed on the same day as the accident, and has refused every opportunity since then to be tested. The Ministry said there was no requirement for the other bus operator to be tested as she had not caused the accident.”
A Ministry spokesman said: “It is unfortunate that the BIU has issued us with an ultimatum to reinstate this operator without a substance abuse test being administered. It is clear that this situation has been caused by the driver's refusal to follow policy and we sincerely hope that reason prevails and that the public will not be inconvenienced by unreasonable demands.
“Our policies are in the best interest of passenger safety. This situation has been caused by the operator. Her future as a DPT bus operator is in her own hands. Management has been more than reasonable and has provided ample opportunity for this driver to be tested in accordance with our policy. Continued refusal to be tested may lead to dismissal. We can assure the operator that she will be reinstated as soon as the relevant testing has been completed.”