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Prison officers confront politicians

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Prison officers protested against pay and conditions on the lawn of the House of Assembly (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Prison officers picketed the House of Assembly yesterday as part of an industrial dispute over pay and conditions.

Timothy Seon, the president of the Prison Officers Association, said in a Bermuda Broadcasting Company interview that no formal pay offer had been made.

He also said that officers had refused a request to pay into the Government Employee Health Insurance plan.

Mr Seon said that he did not understand why the two sides had hit a roadblock and that he believed they were still in mediation.

He added that a work-to-rule by prison officers would continue.

David Burt, the Premier, was on the lawn outside Parliament along with Wayne Caines, the Minister for National Security, and other Cabinet ministers to hear Mr Seon talk about the “deplorable conditions” endured by prison officers, a decade-long pay freeze, and the requests for GEHI payments.

Mr Seon told Mr Caines he wanted to express the association’s displeasure with the way negotiations had developed.

He said: “We don’t know how we have gotten into this current situation of being in a labour dispute — we were in mediation with labour relations and then we received a letter on June 4 saying that we were at an impasse and in a dispute.

“The men and women simply want to be treated with human dignity and to be able to work in a safe environment.

“It is a calling and a passion that the men and women are tirelessly doing behind those walls to reinforce security in this British territory.”

Mr Seon added that the prison officers had been called “the forgotten service”.

He said: “When Government called for our assistance in the matter of furloughs, we rose to the occasion; when they asked for the wage freeze, we also complied.

“We have been working for ten years without a wage increase and now we are expected, working in the deplorable conditions that we work in, to pay into the GEHI benefit.

“Twelve years, sir, we have been working in mould-infested facilities. We have seen other facilities and other government agencies shut down in these conditions.”

Mr Burt said that he was confident that Mr Caines, along with Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister for Public Works, were working to resolve problems in the prisons.

Mr Burt added: “I understand very deeply the work that you do is not easy.

“During the election campaign, I said it was an injustice that public officers had not had pay increases for a long time.

“The Government will ensure that at least the offer that is on any table will be for any pay increases that have been given to other public sector workers that have not accrued to yourselves — we will make sure that they are part of any particular offer that is going to go forward.

“That is something that we will commit to.”

Mr Caines added: “I believe that we have a workable plan. My door remains open — I know that we are at an impasse now and it is our desire to resolve it.”

Prison officers protested against pay and conditions on the lawn of the House of Assembly (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)