BPSU bites back with stinging attack on Burch
The leader of the island's white-collar union hit back yesterday after a Cabinet minister attacked health ministry staff for a claimed attempt to bring down the scientist leading the fight against Covid-19.
Armell Thomas, the president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, claimed that comments by Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, may also be in breach of the Human Rights Act. Mr Thomas was speaking after he listened with “great disappointment” to the speech, made a week ago in the House of Assembly and said he has tried to raise his concerns with the minister and David Burt, the Premier.
Colonel Burch told MPs last Friday that some women who worked in the health ministry had plotted for the “ultimate failure” of Carika Weldon, a biochemist and researcher at the Oxford Genomics Centre, who returned to Bermuda from Britain to lead the Government's Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at Southside in St David's.
Mr Thomas said: “With the protection of parliamentary privilege, MP Burch accused unnamed ‘black Bermudian women' employed with the Ministry and Department of Health of ‘terrorising' Dr Weldon and ‘deliberately planning and plotting for her ultimate failure'.
“The minister went on further to claim that these alleged attacks were the result of ‘the jealousy and envy of black women towards other black women who are successful'.”
He added: “To make wide-sweeping generalised allegations against ‘black women employed with the Ministry and Department of Health' are not only extremely offensive, denigrating and professionally damaging, but may also be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1981.
“I remind the public that the public officers who have been swept up in these allegations have sacrificed over this Covid-19 period, to ensure the health and safety of the Bermuda public.
“They have also agreed to sacrifice 10 per cent of their wage and should not be denigrated in such an egregious manner.
Mr Thomas added: “Instead of fuelling the fire with rumours and criticism, the BPSU implores the Government to engage in proper and meaningful dialogue.”
Mr Thomas said: “My dismay in hearing these public allegations was compounded by the fact that I personally have the utmost respect for MP Lieutenant-Colonel Burch, and with this in mind, I attempted to express my concerns directly to both the minister and the Premier.
“I do not take lightly having to come to the public via the media, however, unfortunately, I have not had the courtesy of an acknowledgement of the receipt of my letter outlining my concerns, nor a returned telephone call.”
Mr Thomas added that allegations of misconduct were handled through the collective bargaining agreement between the Government and the BPSU.
He said: “If the Government has genuine issues with the conduct of specific public officers, and have the requisite evidence to support these allegations, the contractually agreed grievance-handling process must be adhered to.
“Every worker is entitled to due process.”
Mr Burt said at the regular Covid-19 briefing last nightthat he received a letter yesterday, which he said he thought was from Ed Ball, the union's general secretary.
He added: “I do know that president Thomas had reached out to me on Monday, I had given him a call back and left a message, but I was unable to get to him, but I think he did call me back and we have not had a chance to speak.
“Mr Armell Thomas represents his workers and what I will say is that there are situations where we can all do a better job.
“Persons have heard my comments and I think that where we are getting to inside of our testing regime is to, without question, a better place.”
Mr Burt said that the increased test numbers — now an average of 450 a day — was “testament to a team that has had to work very well together”.
He added: “In any places and instances there will certainly be stressful situations, there may be things that may be said in certain cases, which may be taken out of context in certain ways.”
Mr Burt admitted: “I'm not going to pretend that it has all been hunky dory.”
He said that there had been times where he had been involved in “less than kind words” with the colleagues he worked with, but that was the “stress of these particular jobs”.
Mr Burt added: “What I can say is that the teams at the Ministry of Health are continuing to work well and the MDL team is continuing to produce results very well and we're just going to go ahead and press forward.”
Mr Burt said that he would respond to the letter from Mr Ball.
Colonel Burch told MPs last Friday: “I feel compelled to speak to the disgraceful and malicious treatment Dr Weldon has received.”
He added: “The majority of those deliberately planning and plotting for her ultimate failure are black women and many of them work in the Ministry and Department of Health.
“I've witnessed treachery before, but never to the extent being repeatedly visited upon Dr Weldon.”
He said later: “I asked some of those black women, who have been terrorising Dr Weldon, for all the barriers you have broken down, I cannot understand why you would erect them anew, to block another talented black woman.”
The Government's communications team did not respond to a request for comment last night.