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Burch offers to meet ‘dismayed’ BPSU leader

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A Cabinet member said that he offered to meet the leader of the island's white-collar union today to discuss alleged attempts by health ministry staff to bring down a scientist in the front line of the battle against Covid-19.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, discussed the controversy in the House of Assembly last Friday, where he told MPs a week earlier that “the majority of those deliberately planning and plotting” for the “ultimate failure” of biochemist Carika Weldon were “black women and many of them work in the Ministry and Department of Health”.

Armell Thomas, the president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, said on Thursday that he listened to the speech with “great disappointment” and he tried to raise his concerns with the minister and David Burt, the Premier, but had no acknowledgement in response to a letter nor a returned telephone call.

Colonel Burch said on Friday: “Following my statement last week, much has been said about all manner of things, but little on the matter I actually raised.”

He added: “On Wednesday last, I received a copy of correspondence to the Premier from the general secretary of the BPSU commenting on my remarks in the House last week.

“As one may appreciate, long hours and late nights are the order of the day and have been for months for the Premier and ministers. As such, the Premier and I have not had an opportunity to have any substantive discussions on this correspondence.

“I expect we will do so next week.”

Colonel Burch said that he understood from an article in The Royal Gazette — “as reported by a member of our staff” — that Mr Thomas tried to contact him.

He added: “There is no record in my office of such an outreach.

“That notwithstanding, I have taken the invitation as genuine and have e-mailed Mr Thomas this morning to accept that invitation and have suggested a meeting time for Monday.”

Colonel Burch said he wanted to reach a resolution.

He told MPs that he agreed with comments made last Monday by Derrick Binns, the Head of the Public Service, after the minister had launched an attack on staff at the Department and Ministry of Health.

Dr Binns said then: “From the very onset of the virus, the team at the Ministry of Health have gone about the critical work of ensuring that our community was protected against the devastating effects of the coronavirus.

“These frontline essential workers have worked tirelessly, day and night, week after week, month after month around the clock with one goal in mind — keeping Bermuda and all its residents safe.

“They have put the needs of the country first. These selfless public officers are a testament to the best of humanity, and they deserve our sincerest thanks and appreciation for their sacrifice during one of the worst public health crises the world has seen.”

Colonel Burch said on Friday: “I fully agree with the comments this week from the Head of the Public Service, Dr Derrick Binns, with regard to the work of the Ministry of Health's public health response team for its work during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“That, I might point out, I never challenged.”

He added: “All those who have been on the front line deserve our thanks and commendation.”

Mr Thomas said on Thursday: “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 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 Burt said last Thursday that he received a letter from Ed Ball, the BPSU's general secretary, to which he would respond. He added that he returned a call from Mr Thomas and left a message but “we have not had a chance to speak”.

Mr Thomas could not be contacted for further comment.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
Armell Thomas, president of the Bermuda Public Services Union (File photograph)

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Published July 27, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 27, 2020 at 8:36 am)

Burch offers to meet ‘dismayed’ BPSU leader

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