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Premier urges bus strikers to return to work

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Premier Paula Cox tonight urged striking bus drivers to return to work - saying their actions would harm the economy.

In a statement the Premier said: "I would encourage the bus drivers to return to work. Disruptions like these are harmful to our economy and right now as a country we need to be rowing in the same direction."

When jobs are at stake it makes it personal; but let's remember that Bermuda's core values and principles are also at stake. We must commit to providing reliable and good quality service to the public. In particular, public transportation services must be safe. Rules must be followed if locals and visitors are to have confidence in the safety of our buses.

"Labour relations have been experiencing a few flashpoints recently. We will not always see eye to eye with unions, but we will stay the course in seeking to better the relationship. However, it is key that as a Government and as a people, we also stand up and be counted on issues of principle. That is Maturity.

"I am pleased to see members of our community joining to help one another by providing transport to those in need. It is this spirit of community that represents the best of our people.

"What's more important, is for the Government and the union to work together so that the buses resume service to the public as quickly as possible."

Earlier today BIU leader Chris Furbert said the bus strike continues tonight.

Mr Furbert, who arrived back on-Island today amid a walkout by drivers, showed no sign of backing down on the issue that sparked the strike.

However, he pledged to work until midnight tonight if he has to, in order to get it resolved.

“I'm going to do what I can to arrange a meeting with the relevant parties, the Premier, whoever. I want to try to resolve this issue. I want to get the operators back to work and we want to get sister Jennifer back to work with no loss of pay,” he said.

Drivers downed tools at rush hour yesterday after it was announced driver Jennifer Harvey had been terminated for “gross insubordordination” for refusing to take a drugs test after an accident.

The union says proper drug testing protocol was not followed and it is refusing to back down amid Government pressure for drivers to return to work.

“The DPT and Ministry had better come to their senses and come to their senses in a hurry,” Mr Furbert told a press conference, which was held with around 80 striking drivers packing the hall at union HQ.

Mr Furbert claimed the accident, which left a passenger needing hospital treatment, was not Ms Harvey's fault, contrary to the stance taken by transport bosses. He also insisted she had been mislead by a supervisor that a union steward agreed she should give a drug test, when that was not the case.

“Management needs to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” he said, to loud applause from the drivers present.

He defended the decision to walk out on strike without issuing a 21-day strike notice.

“Issued for what? Did the Minister issue a 21-day strike notice that he was going to fire anybody?” he replied in a heated tone. “It always sounds like the workers have to issue a 21-day notice. It's for the employers too.”

Again, Mr Furbert's comments prompted loud applause.

However, answering questions from reporters, he admitted not all bus drivers support the strike. This newspaper quoted some yesterday who commented after a meeting: “We didn't want this”; “This makes us look bad” and “It's been a waste of time, they haven't listened”.

He said a further meeting this morning was attended by 111 members out of around 180-190 in total. He admitted not all of those present voted in support of the strike, but went on to use US Presidential approval ratings to make a point.

“Bill Clinton, no matter how good a job he done, his approval never got higher than 70 percent,” he said.

Asked about reports at least one driver has broken the strike and been spotted driving a bus today, he replied: “You are going to have a few operators that feel what's going on is not correct. I just hope tomorrow it's not [something that happens to] them because if it is, they won't get the support of the membership.”

When reporters asked him about criticism from the public over the strike action, he refused to accept the majority of the population is against the BIU's stance, telling reporters: “Show me 35,000 people who disagree.”

Meanwhile, Goverment issued a statement saying the ferry service hoped to help the thousands of residents and visitors who have been inconvenienced by the bus strike.

“Today the Marine and Ports Services Department confirmed that all its commuter routes were operating as per normal and this evening's commuter service is also expected to run according to schedule,” said a spokeswoman.

“As an additional note, Marine and Ports advised that the 5.00pm ferry to St. Georges will now depart at 5.20pm today to meet demands of East End commuters. Marine and Ports also confirmed that throughout today, there was an additional unscheduled supplementary service operating between Hamilton and Dockyard to meet demands of visitors and residents as they arose.

“And if buses continue their industrial action tomorrow morning (Friday August 19), Marine and Ports officials confirmed that they will provide a 7.45am ferry departing from St. George's to assist East End commuters.

“Meanwhile, the Department of Marine and Ports Services is advising those members of the public who would normally commute via the bus, to consider taking the ferry to assist in their transportation needs for the duration of the current bus operators strike.”

Members of the public who want to find out more information on the current ferry routes and schedules can visit www.seaexpress.bm or call the Hamilton Ferry Terminal at 295-4506.

The buses were a no show today as bus drivers were on strike. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published August 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Updated August 18, 2011 at 6:22 pm)

Premier urges bus strikers to return to work

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