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Update: Government admits buses under threat

Working to rule: bus employees taking industrial action (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The bus service may not run on National Heroes Day after all, the Bermuda Government conceded today.

The Department of Transportation, which previously attacked the media for reporting the public holiday service was under threat due to industrial action, admitted this afternoon “there is a risk” the bus service will not run tomorrow.

It comes despite home affairs minister Walton Brown stating any strike or irregular industrial action by drivers would be unlawful.

This afternoon, a DPT spokesman said management was advised by the Bermuda Industrial Union of a work-to-rule starting at 10am on Friday.

He said: “The BIU membership has interpreted this to include holiday work, regardless of whether or not it forms part of the employees’ weekly work schedule.

“Management does not agree with this interpretation and distinguishes between regular shift work taking place on a holiday and overtime for those working more than their normal 37.5 hours per week.

“As with many other service providers, the bus service is a 365-day per year operation, which necessitates working holidays, weekends and shift work.

“Owing to this impasse in the interpretation of overtime, there is a risk that the bus service will not run tomorrow, Monday, June 18.

“DPT apologises for the inconvenience to the travelling public and is committed to restoring full service as soon as possible.”

Mr Brown published a Notice of Declaration of Labour Dispute in the Official Gazette yesterday, which stated: “I declare that a labour dispute exists between the Department of Public Transportation and the Bermuda Industrial Union.

“In accordance with section 19 of the Labour Disputes Act 1992, after the publication of this Notice, any lockout strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike is unlawful and any person who takes part in, incites or in any way encourages, persuades or influences any person to take part in, or otherwise acts in furtherance of, a lockout, strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike that is unlawful under this section is guilty of an offence.”

Mr Brown said he had referred the dispute to settlement to the Labour Disputes Tribunal.

In spite of Mr Brown’s warning and the DPT’s denial that the service was under threat, the Chamber of Commerce wrote to its members last night: “Although the government has published a Declaration Notice in today’s daily, the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce has been advised that there still remains a possibility that buses will not run on Monday 18 June.

“Members are advised to have alternate travel plans in place as an added precaution to ensure adequate staffing numbers.”

The Royal Gazette reported on Friday how multiple sources close to the dispute had said buses would be off the road for the public holiday because employees were planning to work to rule while a long-running row rumbles on over working conditions for mechanics.

Government failed to respond to requests for comment for that article, but did issue an e-mail saying 147 bus routes had been cancelled on Friday afternoon and evening. No updates on cancellations have been received since then.

After the article published, the DPT said it wished to correct “information circulating in the community, fuelled by media”.

A spokesman said: “There is an outstanding dispute between DPT and its unionised workers. DPT and the Bermuda Industrial Union are working through the issues, based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Royal Gazette in today’s paper quotes unnamed sources that buses will not run on the public holiday Monday because mechanics will not be working. This is not true.

“Monday is a public holiday and as a result, the majority of bus mechanics will be off on holiday, as per normal. This does not determine whether the service operates.

“Notwithstanding the ongoing labour dispute, the bus service will operate on Monday, per the published holiday schedule.”

He added: “As has been the case for many months, there may be route cancellations due to a shortage of available buses. Any cancellations will be informed per the twice-daily bus alerts.

“The work-to-rule means drivers will not work overtime. If there is a shortage of drivers, this may result in route cancellations. It’s difficult to say in advance if, and to what extent, cancellations will occur.”

Three cruise ships are scheduled to be in Bermuda tomorrow — Norwegian Dawn and Grandeur of the Seas in Dockyard, and Veendam in the City of Hamilton, with a potential total of 6,000-plus passengers on board.

Norwegian Dawn has a capacity of 2,340 passengers, while Grandeur of the Seas can carry 2,446 passengers. Veendam can take up to 1,350 passengers.

The Public Transportation spokesman said: “DPT stopped providing charter services last year. For the second year, the main transportation out of Dockyard will be ferries, minibuses and taxis.

“Only regularly scheduled buses serve Dockyard, and, as stated, the normal Sunday/public holiday schedule will apply.”

A voice message on social media on Friday warned of service disruption on Monday, saying buses would not run because mechanics were due to down tools.

Glen Simmons, the Bermuda Industrial Union’s vice-president, said he had “no idea about that” when questioned on Friday.

Mr Simmons referred questions on the dispute to Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union. Mr Furbert did not respond to requests for comment.

The bus service ground to a halt for several hours in March after drivers took action in what was said to be a show of support for mechanics, who had stopped work over a series of complaints, including staff shortages.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Transport and Regulatory Affairs, said in October that 14 maintenance positions had been left vacant — “almost half” the required staff.

UPDATE: This story was amended to include comments from the Chamber of Commerce, home affairs minister Walton Brown and the Department of Public Transportation, and to correct Glen Simmons’s position to Bermuda Industrial Union’s vice-president, not Director of the Department of Transportation

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