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Police protest: Dunkley agrees to talk

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About 100 police officers amassed on Cabinet Grounds yesterday to present complaints to Michael Dunkley — with many telling The Royal Gazette that morale was at rock bottom.

Bermuda Police Association members were protesting about an impasse over budget negotiations with the Bermuda Government that they claim is causing them an “undue financial and psychological burden”.

A morning of tension came to an end after BPA chairman Andrew Harewood emerged from Cabinet to say that the Premier and Minister of National Security had agreed to “reopen the lines of discussion”.

Reacting in the afternoon, the Government expressed frustration that negotiations had dragged on for months, claiming that in August both parties reached agreement, only for police to later reject that settlement. The dispute is now before the Permanent Police Arbitration Tribunal. According to the BPA, its members have saved the Government about $7 million by contributing to a budget reduction strategy.

The BPA said the Government reduced the police budget by 7 per cent in 2014, by 5 per cent in 2015 and expects to make a further 3 per cent cut in 2016.

Sergeant Kenton Trott, assistant secretary for the BPA, said: “Savings have been achieved in five categories including furlough days, an overtime reduction strategy, contract non-renewals, retirement and resignations, and a promotion freeze.

“The Government is now asking us to make further contributions to its budget reduction strategy in the region of 12 per cent to 18 per cent.

“This equates to a reduction in salary of a minimum of $1,000 for our members per month.

“Our members rejected this proposal and Government is seeking to force us into arbitration despite our desire to continue negotiating in good faith.

“The members of the BPS are at the forefront of the fight against crime, gun violence and antisocial behaviour.

“Our members have been the target of gun crime and have been shot at.

“As recent as December 12 one of our members was injured while attempting to apprehend an assailant. When the members of the public that we serve have an option to run away and seek refuge from gunfire and violence, our members are asked to respond to the sound of despair whilst putting ourselves at risk.”

He claimed that three in every four police officers have high blood pressure, and that 11 serving police officers are suffering from Trigeminol Neuralgia, also known as Suicide Disease.

Commissioner of Police Michael DeSilva has acknowledged there is concern over morale because of recent redundancies and pay negotiations.

At yesterday's protest, officers could be heard talking about loss of overtime, wage cuts and health issues related to stress.

They were further annoyed that Mr Dunkley did not leave the Cabinet building to address the crowd in person, instead inviting executive members of the BPA into his office.

Mr Harewood's announcement that talks would be reopened won applause from officers, but he reserved judgment on the outcome until those discussions had begun.

One officer told The Royal Gazette: “We can't get secondary employment easily — we have to apply to the Commissioner who has the right to say yes or no and he determines what type of secondary employment we can get.

“We can't strike. Government wants us to be on the same level as everybody else but we can not be realistically — we have so many restrictions. We are compensated in some way and people say the police get paid a lot of money. You can't pay anyone peanuts to do that kind of policing.”

Asked whether he and his colleagues had considered changing professions, he replied: “Of course! The majority of these people are Bermudian with families to look after and support. How can you support that?

“And it's not just about the Bermudian workers — it is about the contract workers as well — everyone is in the same boat.

“Sometimes I stay there for 14 hours because I have to get those reports finished I am not getting paid overtime for that. The job has to be done.

“Per month I probably work 30 hours overtime with no extra pay. We get time in lieu but that doesn't always work either because we are needed.”

Questioned by this newspaper about the legality of their action, officers told this newspaper the presentation took place outside of their working hours.

During the morning, Shadow Minister of Public Safety Walter Roban addressed the crowd, saying: “We do believe it is important that dialogue when disputes arise are important.”

Service without a smile: Bermuda Police Association members march to the Cabinet in the hope of voicing concerns to Michael Dunkley. Top right, BPA representatives try to speak to the Premier, who invited executive members into his office (Photograph David Skinner)
Grounds for concern: members of the Bermuda Police Association marched to the Cabinet Grounds to express concerns (Photograph by David Skinner)

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Published December 19, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 19, 2015 at 8:20 am)

Police protest: Dunkley agrees to talk

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