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Tourism staff told Department to be abolished

The Department of Tourism is to be abolished and all its staff offered jobs elsewhere in Government, it has been revealed.

But Minister Shawn Crockwell has issued reassurances that no jobs will be shed as a result of the changeover.

A newly created independent Tourism Authority will take on the functions of the Department from October 1 and Tourism staff will get the chance to apply for jobs there, though they won't be guaranteed a position. It is understood they will also have the option of voluntary redundancy.

The Department has a $27 million budget and employs 47 people, according to the last Government budget book, with at least 27 of them based in Bermuda at Tourism's Global House headquarters.

Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell and acting permanent secretary Francis Richardson broke the news to staff there on Tuesday and made the same announcement at the Department's New York office yesterday.

In a statement issued yesterday, which can be read in full in the attached PDF, Mr Crockwell said: “This Government promised that we would not make any civil servants redundant and we have kept that promise as all BDOT staff that are unsuccessful in securing a position with the new Authority will be offered alternative employment within Government.

“My Permanent Secretary will continue to meet with BDOT staff on a regular basis and keep them apprised of progress as we transition to the Authority and work to revitalise our tourism industry.”

The move follows a pledge in the Government's February Throne Speech to establish a Tourism Authority within six months and to form a “transition task force to oversee a smooth transition from Tourism's current way of doing business to the new system”.

Mr Crockwell added: “This Government's election platform promised to remove the day to day running of Tourism away from the political realm and transition to an Authority.

“We are close to fulfilling this promise. The transition from BDOT to the Authority is a mammoth task that involves a multitude of items, issues and tasks that must be identified, addressed and resolved. We have already compiled a list of more than 100 tasks and are working to resolve these and other staff issues and concerns as a priority.

“The details of the transition are very complex and a Project Management Office will be formed to manage those details.”

But Shadow Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert condemned the move, saying that reports of job cuts were “disturbing”.

“Since taking office, the OBA have proven that their promises mean nothing and that the values of openness, honesty and transparency that they claimed to have before the election, no longer apply to them,” he said.

“Credible allegations of imminent job cuts within the Ministry of Tourism are disturbing, especially in light of the OBA's repeated promise not to cut civil servant jobs. Many Bermudians took the OBA at their word and voted for jobs. Now they may find their friends, neighbours or even themselves out of a job.

“The Tourism Department is comprised of talented, capable Bermudians who, with the few tools they have, are fighting to bring back the glory days of tourism. Now, the halls of Tourism ring with whispers of OBA deceit, OBA broken promises and OBA lack of compassion towards Bermudians.

“The OBA's habit of incompetence, acting in secrecy, cover-up, lying when caught and breaking promises must stop. We call on the Minister of Tourism to do the right thing and tell the people the truth about the future of Bermudian jobs within his Ministry.”

A Ministry spokesman has confirmed that draft legislation enabling the abolishment of the Department and the establishment of the Authority will go before MPs when the House of Assembly resumes sitting next month.

“Tourism Authority legislation will be tabled in mid-September when the Legislature resumes, with passage of the Act also expected in September,” the spokesman said.

“BDOT staff are to continue with their current responsibilities until those activities are transitioned to the Authority. The transition will begin once the Act is passed and the transition is anticipated to be completed by the end of March, 2014.”

Hotelier David Dodwell was announced as the new Authority's chairman designate in January, when Mr Crockwell told the media: “Mr Dodwell has been tasked with leading the formation of and creating the structure for the new authority that will fulfil one of our election promises — to move tourism out of the political realm.

“We have set an aggressive timeline of six months to have the new authority up and running and working to fulfil its mandate — namely the revival of Bermuda's tourism industry.”

He added: “The establishment of the authority and revitalisation of tourism is, of course, all about stimulating the economy and creating a welcoming environment for hospitality investment, all of which is ultimately about creating jobs for Bermudians. We are determined to get this right.”

Reacting to the news Ed Ball, general secretary of the Bermuda Public Service Union, said: “There is a process that takes place for any employer who wishes to restructure. The issue stands right now that if you are telling people they have got to apply for their jobs or be forced into an involuntary transfer, that could be considered as an abolition of post under the Superannuation Act. Officers are entitled to early retirement.

“The Memorandum of Understanding that has been recently signed – one of the conditions is that there will be no redundancies. There must be frank and open discussion with ll key senior civil servants on the planned Tourism Authority.

“Unless that takes place and unless BPSU goes through its protocols, then there is no agreement with Government.”

Mr Ball said the union had not “signed off on anything” in relation to the Department being abolished.

“Management can talk to any one of their staff at any time. However, if there is to be agreement, there has to be a formal document that's signed, sealed and delivered.”

He said Ministry officials had met with some junior staff at the BPSU prior to making the announcement to staff “just to run the idea by them”.

“I know in talking to my officers they made it very clear you can't just talk about people applying for [their own] jobs. We have to be very careful that we are not breaching the Superannuation Act. If you look under the Act, there are various criteria which triggers abolition of post. There is a process that needs to be taken so that we don't contravene those particular criteria in the Superannuation Act. It only kicks in if you tell staff ‘listen, the job you have now is being made redundant'. If that occurs, in writing, that is abolition of post.”

Mr Ball said there would be no problem if staff simply transferred to the same post in a different department, with all terms and conditions and benefits intact. But he said it wasn't clear if that was going to be the case.

“I think David Dodwell, as interim chairman, made it abundantly clear that he intends to make sure all staff are transitioned into the authority and no persons will be losing jobs.

“My concern is that we don't have another repeat of 2008 when some of the New York office persons were made redundant. The contract was sub-contracted out and it was poorly thought out. It failed. People lives were put into disarray.”

Mr Ball said the latest news would worry staff, many of them young people with mortgages and children. “My concern would be: we need a new tourism product, yes, we need tourism revitalised, yes, but I think this can be done without causing this much upheaval in people's lives. These are harsh times and people need their jobs. Also civil servants are sacrificing with 4.6 percent cut in their salary. In other words: communicate, communicate, communicate. Get the right people around the table to get it right.”

* Are you a Department of Tourism employee? If so, we want your views. Call 278-0133 or e-mail news@royalgazette.bm.

Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published August 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm)

Tourism staff told Department to be abolished

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