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Government to examine spending options

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Premier Michael Dunkley speaks at a press conference. Next to him is Minister of Finance ET Bob Richards

The consolidation of schools and the suspension of the Agricultural Exhibition for a year are among a series of cost-cutting measures that have been agreed by the Bermuda Government and the Bermuda Trade Union Congress.

This according to Finance Minister Bob Richards, as Government responded to last night’s BTUC press conference claim that the Budget Reduction Working Group had reached an agreement and that the unions had hit their reduction target of an extra $22 million, enabling furlough days to be taken off the table.

Premier Michael Dunkley told a press conference this afternoon that the unions had not reached their spending targets and that Government would continue to look at “all options” as it puts together the next Budget.

Mr Dunkley also rejected Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert’s assertion last night that he had been invited to attend the 11pm press conference that was held by the BTUC at the Bermuda Public Services Union.

“The public should know that I never received an invitation to attend the press briefing, which in Government’s view was entirely premature,” he said.

“It is very, very important to stress that the required reductions in expenditure just have not been fully reached, contrary to the BTUC’s declaration last night.

“The Ministry of Finance and Cabinet Office are verifying the numbers as we speak, but early indications are that the spending targets of Government have not been fully achieved at this point. ?

“Thus, we maintain that we must consider all options. ?

“If the unions cannot agree to a furlough — and to be clear a furlough cannot be implemented without their agreement — then the Government would need to consider reductions in service levels and programmes.

“That said, it is Government’s intent to move forward with producing a National Budget for 2015-16.?

Last night’s BTUC press conference came after three days of industrial action and disruption to public services that was prompted by disagreement over the continued imposition of furlough days on public sector workers.

This afternoon Mr Richards revealed the areas where the unions and Government had reached agreement.

“The unions have agreed to placing a cap on Financial Assistance to reduce the allocation by $5 million,” he said. “They have agreed to achieve savings of approximately $1 million by consolidating schools and reducing the travel budget by $1 million.

“The reductions agreed to also include raising the GEHI contribution that employees pay for uninsured spouses from 50 per cent to 75 per cent, saving $1.6 million and to suspend the Agricultural Exhibition for one year for a savings of $400,000.”

Mr Richards added: “Some of our proposals which were not agreed to by the BTUC included a cost sharing of employee pensions, increasing the rate paid by employees and decreasing that paid by the Government by 1 per cent, realising savings of $3.5 million.

“Another proposal not agreed to was a payment of all overtime at straight time. Instead, the unions agreed to accept overtime that is normally paid at double time, at time and a half. They did not agree to any changes to overtime that is currently paid at time and a half.

“The Bermuda Police Service and Corrections Officers were not in agreement in paying 50 per cent of their health benefits, as is the case with all other negotiating bodies.

“This option is still being discussed with the Bermuda Police Association, as it is just and equitable.” ?