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Police Association fury over job cuts

Michael Dunkley, the Premier, has come in for fierce criticism from the Bermuda Police Association

The Bermuda Police Association has accused Premier Michael Dunkley of “divide and conquer” tactics as it reacted with dismay to news of job cuts.

Raoul Ming, the chairman of the BPA, described the ten redundancies as “nothing short of heartbreaking” and claimed more officers are unable to pay their mortgages due to ongoing pay reductions.

Mr Ming heavily criticised the Premier for recent comments about officers on long-term sick leave, revealing seven officers are currently suffering with trigeminal neuralgia, a serious illness known as suicide disease.

“Is there a correlation between shift work and the disease? Is there some other explanation that links the disease with our very line of work?” Mr Ming said in a statement yesterday.

Earlier this week, Michael DeSilva, the Commissioner of Police, revealed that ten officers’ contracts would be allowed to expire in the coming months as a “last resort”, with more likely to face the same in 2016 to meet budget targets.

Reacting yesterday, Mr Ming said: “The news of the decision not to renew ten contracts of serving members of the Bermuda Police Service was nothing short of heartbreaking.

“The members were notified via e-mail from the Commissioner of Police on June 29. I immediately made contact with each of the officers that same day and have since met with all but two of the said officers since the news was delivered.

“Contracts are a matter for the Commissioner of Police and he has provided the affected members with an explanation as to their individual contracts.”

Mr Ming said the BPA executive met with Mr DeSilva to address the matter in March.

“One of the suggestions was that of the continuation of the furlough day which was widely unpopular with the government workers who through the Bermuda Trade Union Congress rejected its continuance,” he said.

“However, when asked whether or not the continued adoption of the furlough day would save all jobs within the rank and file of the BPA, the Commissioner was clear: that would not be enough and contracts would be in jeopardy.

“Although the BPA presented suggestions in other areas, the Commissioner explained that our $38 million salary budget would be the only area to make significant cost savings.”

The number of officers within the Bermuda Police Service will now be 418, Mr Ming said. That figure is down from 438 in March, due to resignations, retirements, natural attrition and the new redundancies.

Mr Ming continued: “With the 2015-16 budget five per cent less than that of last year the BPA members have been asked to continue all the cost savings measures from the previous year plus an additional five per cent.

“There are members within the BPA who are currently making interest only payments on their mortgages, some are delinquent and others on the verge of having their mortgages called. The affects and impact are being felt by all.

“A question that I ask of the Commissioner, has the Bermuda Government either provided or set a specific number of officers they believe is the ideal number of officers needed to police our Island? If yes, what is the number?

“The BPA is currently in negotiations with the government’s public sector negotiating team and we have entered into this venture in good faith.

“Is the Commissioner’s statement in relation to further job cuts for 2016-17 premature or is it likely that further cuts are necessary to reach a lower number mandated by the government?

“If an agreement were to be met covering the next two years, why would it be necessary for additional cuts?”

Earlier this month, Mr Dunkley said he was in discussions with the commissioner over figures showing seven officers have been given extended sick leave beyond six months during the past three financial years.

Mr Ming said in his statement: “On a matter of welfare, I find it distasteful that our very own minister takes every opportunity to speak on the subject of GEHI contributions. The constant attention to the subject has caused anxiety throughout all ranks of the BPS. It’s as if a tactic of divide and conquer is being applied to ensure the matter remains in the public eye and especially among other government workers.

“The rank and file of the Bermuda Police Service put their lives at risk on a daily basis. We walk into danger when others have the option of running away.

“We provide safety for our residents and visitors alike at the risk of our own lives. As we continue to work rigorous shifts and long hours our bodies fold under the pressures of stress.

“There is currently a disease causing grave concern for many of our members within the BPA: trigeminal neuralgia. Trigeminal neuralgia is caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve as it exits the brainstem.

“Those suffering with TN experience excruciating, sporadic, sudden burning or shock-like facial pain. Who is affected by this disease, every 12 out of 100,000 people. Why is this information relevant? There are currently seven officers suffering with TN in the ranks of the BPS. Five of those mentioned have had the treatment which consists of brain surgery. One of those officers has had five surgeries. The statistics are alarming.

“The members of the BPA remain committed to policing, and statistics show that we are focused on combating the effects of guns, gangs, violence and antisocial behaviours. I, as I’m certain those within the BPA membership, would also welcome the support of our minister, the Premier as we remain committed to our mandate, making Bermuda safer.”