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Burt rails against talks leaks

The Premier complained last night that negotiations with unions and employers' associations had got into the public domain.

An angry David Burt lamented the release of sensitive negotiations with unions being shared with the public, as he revealed that a multimillion-dollar savings deal was in the works with government workers.

The Royal Gazette understands that talks with the Bermuda Public Services Union included proposing a 10 per cent pay cut for all government employees, offset by a one-year suspension of superannuation fund contributions and a suspension of social insurance payments for one year.

But the deal, and the pay cut in particular, was said to be poorly received by the BPSU, the union of white-collar civil servants.

Mr Burt described the offer as “a one-time emergency item that would have not reduced the take-home pay of public officers in this particular year, but would have provided significant savings to the Government of Bermuda, so that we would have been able to, combined, save $150 million inside of this budget year, in order to meet the Minister of Finance's deficit target”.

Mr Burt's complaints came after the Premier accused the Bermuda Hotel Association of leaking to the media its private correspondence with the Government, over a bailout plan to save hotels reeling from the shutdown of the tourism industry as part of Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Burt said the Government would continue discussions with unions in “good faith”, but urged “for us not to negotiate in public”.

He said an e-mail from the BPSU, sent out that day, had caused the public to contact him with “alarm” over its contents.

Mr Burt added: “We are in a very tense phase right now in negotiations with all of our public-sector unions. The Minister of Finance was very, very clear in regards to the financial situation in which the country finds itself, and we all have to be sure that we are making sacrifices.”

The Premier said the proposal, which was put to all the public-sector unions, which he had expected “in some way, shape or form kept in confidence”, was “something that was fair and equitable”.

He added: “I would ask that negotiations be done in private, and not inside the media. Right now, what the country needs is for us to be unified, for us to make sure we all recognise that we have a particular role to play, so we can come through this process together.”

Mr Burt said that to start “flying apart now” would mean “the next few months and years will be incredibly difficult”.

The Premier said earlier he had expressed his “extreme displeasure” to the BHA for putting its correspondence with the Government into the public sphere.

While the proposals were under consideration, Mr Burt said he was urging the BHA, if sending items to him for Cabinet to consider, to “keep them private”.

BHA proposals, as reported yesterday in The Royal Gazette, included extending the 12-week unemployment benefits scheme and cutting health insurance costs.

Austerity measures in the wake of the 2008-09 recession proved a flashpoint with unions under the previous One Bermuda Alliance administration. An extension for furlough days for public officers, imposed as part of government spending cuts under the OBA, sparked industrial action and marches in January 2015.

But Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, has warned that “all options” were on the table as the Government confronts a profound squeeze on the island's economy as a result of an island-wide lockdown against the coronavirus pandemic.

Down time: David Burt, the Premier, had two flashpoints at the press conference yesterday, directed at the hotels and the unions (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 16, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated May 17, 2020 at 1:32 am)

Burt rails against talks leaks

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