Subsection 7A of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1982 states that “ an employee who has reasonable cause to believe that the condition of an article or place of employment presents an imminent and serious danger to [their] life or health shall have the right to refuse to work.”
President of the Bermuda Industrial Union (B.I.U) Chris Furbert bore this in mind when speaking with Premier the Honorable David Burt and Deputy Premier the Honorable Walter Roban last week Tuesday to discuss the possible resumption of bus services.
According to Mr. Furbert, the BIU came to the table with a 70-30 pay-no pay ratio and the Government countered with a 50-50 offer.
“With the roster issue [ a few weeks ago], which was not a health and safety issue, bus operators received 66 percent of their pay,” Mr. Furbert explained.
“ I asked the Premier how I could justify to my members that, for a non-health and safert issue, we received 66 percent of our pay, but for this issue, which is health and safety, we only receive 50 percent of our pay. They could not justify that situation.”
As predicted, union members did not accept the government’s 50-50 offer. So. Mr. Furbert went back to the negotiating table with the following offer:
“ Why don’t you allow union members to take one vacation day and one sick day, so instead of losing five days’ pay, members only lose three?”
According to Mr. Furbert, the government eventually agreed to the 50-50 deal with one paid vacation day for bus operators, but not to one paid sick day. That, according to him, is where the contention between the two parties currently lies.
“ We had a meeting with the bus division last night to update them on what has transpired since they went back to work last week, and they are infuriated,” Mr. Furbert explained. “ They went back to work in good faith and they do not understand why this issue cannot be resolved. Last night, workers came to a decision to accept the government’s current offer, but will continue to fight for the paid sick day.”
Mr. Furbert reached out to Premier Burt last night to try and continue negotiating before the union’s divisional meeting, but did not get through. His phone rang during the divisional meeting; however, Senator Owen Darrell was on the line and not Premier Burt.
“ Our workers have done nothing but sacrificed, including four years’ wage freeze from 2012-16, a 10 percent pay reduction last year, etc.,” Mr. Furbert said. “ All we are asking for is one days’ sick pay to be taken and it is being denied. I cannot understand why the government continues to stand firm in this position.”
According to Mr. Furbert, nothing is stopping operators from taking a sick day on their own.
“ This action could end up costing the government money, because if ten operators call in sick, people must cover their shifts and they must be paid their sick pay,” he explained. “
It’s up to the individual members to decide how they get their day and the union will continue to advocate for them and their day’s pay that we definitely feel they are entitled to.”
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