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PTB, BIU in talks today to resolve dispute

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Union officials will today meet transport bosses for crunch talks to try to resolve the ongoing bus dispute.

The Department of Public Transportation has agreed to the Bermuda Industrial Union's request for an urgent meeting to “try to take things forward”.

It comes after about 100 drivers and mechanics interrupted the bus service yesterday to attend a “very tense” two-hour union meeting.

The BIU is standing firm over calls for the reinstatement of the suspended bus driver who was involved in an accident, which injured a passenger, about seven weeks ago.

They want the female driver to return to work as they claim the DPT failed to follow the correct drug testing procedure by asking for a hair follicle drug test.

But the DPT insist the driver has to take the drug test before she will be given her job back. They insist the driver did not report the accident and has failed to show up for drug tests on five separate occasions.

Yesterday's meeting saw workers overwhelmingly agreeing to stick to the BIU's collective agreement.

The majority of workers believe the driver should take a drugs test, but that it should be a urine test and not a hair follicle test.

Drivers dismissed the second motion put to them that the female driver should take the hair follicle test to be reinstated.

If an amicable agreement is not reached at today's meeting, union bosses are expected to give 24 hours notice to work to rule. This means bus drivers will work 37.5 hours a week without any overtime.

This will disrupt some routes and take all sightseeing buses off the road. The suspended driver attended yesterday's meeting but did not speak and tempers flared with several bus drivers walking out saying they weren't being listened to.

Initial concerns about only one of the two female drivers involved in the accident being drug tested were laid to rest when the second driver voluntary went for a drug test on Friday afternoon.

At 1pm yesterday Glen Simmons, president and shop steward of the bus operators and allied workers division, gave DPT bosses one-and-a-half hours to respond to his request for a meeting.

Mr Simmons continued to “wait for that call” and shortly before 5pm DPT bosses agreed to meet with union bosses first thing this morning.

Mr Simmons refused to give too much away saying they “needed to discuss everything with management first”.

He said: “We want to sit down with managers to try to resolve this issue. We will put things to them, then work out the logistics in going forward.

“We didn't hear from them within the hour-and-a-half, but we did get a call. Now we are just waiting to see what happens”.

Mr Simmons said a normal bus service would continue “for the time being as we try to resolve this”.

The employment dispute stems from an accident in Paget when one bus rolled a couple of feet into another bus as passengers were transferred between the two vehicles.

The accident on Friday, June 24 resulted in a female passenger being taken to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital with hand injuries.

The driver in question had pulled her bus into a lay-by and summoned a backup bus as her vehicle was experiencing power problems.

The handbrake had not been put on and the two buses collided, trapping the hand of a passenger trying to board.

Uniformed drivers, as well as a handful of mechanics and supervisors, piled out of two buses at about 10.20am yesterday and headed into the BIU.

They were in high spirits as they commented they “just wanted to get it sorted” and hurried each other into the building saying: “Come on this is important”.

One driver walking in commented he had just got back from vacation and he wanted to find out “just what's going on”.

The meeting, which was scheduled to last an hour, continued for more than two hours and caused severe disruptions to the Island's bus routes. About 80 percent of DPT workers are thought to have attended.

There were angry scenes outside the BIU as drivers came outside for cigarette breaks. One driver said: “I'm not standing for this madness”, while another said: “This is all lies, they aren't listening to us”.

At about 11.45am five drivers appeared to storm out the building as a colleague chased them down the road and encouraged them to return to the meeting.

The drivers huddled together and appeared to be arguing over when the accident was reported and when the first drug test was requested.

Voices were raised as drivers made comments like: “I don't condone this, but they are talking a load of s***”, “It's all lies”, and “the majority always has to rule”.

The workers started to file out of the building and back onto the waiting buses at about 12.50pm. They said there was now “a lot more clarity about things” but said they had been instructed not to speak to the media.

However, one woman said: “That was a hot meeting, there were lots of lies” and another said: “The issue isn't the drug testing, it's the type of test”.

The suspended bus driver was one of the last people to leave the meeting. She calmly walked across the road and headed towards Court Street without stopping to speak to anyone.

UBP leader Kim Swan yesterday said any strike action “would send out the wrong message” to locals and tourists who rely on public transport. He also urged the PLP Government to “lead by example” and subscribe to random drug testing.

Mr Swan said: “We urge the union, its members and the government to further consider the current state of Bermuda engulfed with difficulties economically and socially to find a solution at the bargaining table or by mediation in the national interest”.

At Hamilton bus terminal yesterday morning about 40 passengers were left stranded, not knowing when or if service would resume.

“They really should have put up a sign or something,” said Oliver Redmond, who is visiting the Island with his family from Atlanta.

“I can understand service having to be cut back or stopped, but you need to tell people.

“We were planning on going to the caves today, but I have no idea how we're going to get there and back. We bought bus passes, but they're not worth much if the buses don't run.”

One St George's man said: “We should have sorted all this out last time. They can't keep going on strike like this.

“Not all of us can afford taxis. Some of us rely on the busses to get to work in the mornings.”

Another local said: “If I had realised before I left the house, I would have taken a helmet with me so I could get a ride. A bit late now, though.”

The Ministry of Transport did not respond to our requests for comment yesterday.

Bus drivers gathered on a bus yesterday after a reportedly heated meeting at Bermuda Industrial Union Headquarters.
Bus Dr

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Published August 16, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 16, 2011 at 9:03 am)

PTB, BIU in talks today to resolve dispute

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