In these trying times, not having transportation adds additional stress, anxiety and burden to those who rely on the public bus service. As Minister, I feel compelled to report exactly why the commuting public has been without public buses for the last five days.
Early last week, the Department of Public Transportation’s Safety and Health Committee Co-Chairs communicated about safety and health concerns within the workplace. The Committee did not formally meet, nor were any recommendations to the DPT Management as required under section 7B of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1982.
On Thursday, 16 September 2021, the President of the BIU Bus Division sent an email to the Acting Director. He advised that as of 9:00 am on Friday, and the Division would be withdrawing their labour. Around noon that same day, he sent a second email to the DPT Acting Director, DPT Operations Manager, the Government Health and Safety Officer and the Head of Public Service advising that the Division would withdraw labour as of noon that day under the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 2009, section 84(1)(e).
A meeting was held between the DPT and the BIU Bus Division at 3:00 pm that day. The DPT informed the Division that the legislation provided for why the Division was withdrawing services was incorrect. The Bus Division acknowledged that the provision of law provided was not correct.
The DPT also advised that the requirements listed in the email were already in place and asked whether the Bus Division could be more specific. The no work, no pay policy was applied since the DPT believed the concerns could have been addressed without the Division withdrawing labour.
The DPT also wrote to the Labour Relations Manager to register a labour dispute between the DPT Management and the Bus Division of the BIU regarding the safety of the public bus service. The BIU responded that the matter was not a labour issue and should be treated as a safety and health emergency.
Later that night, the Division submitted a revised email quoting section 7A,(1) and 7C(d) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1982 for their actions. After reviewing the situation, the Government Occupational Safety and Health Officer advised that the Ministry of Health has approved the COVID-19 protocols in place at DPT to provide for continuing safe operations.
She noted that there had been an increase in Covid cases, but that does not satisfy the notion of imminent danger. She further stated that section 7A refers to the employee having the right to refuse work if there is reasonable cause to believe that the condition of the place of employment presents an imminent and serious danger to their health or life. While 7B allows the employee to report the matter to their employer and remain available for work until their claim has been investigated.
The main point is that the Division did not follow the law.
Currently, the parties are at an impasse because the Division wants its members to be paid for the period they withdrew service. The Government’s position stands. The Government cannot justify paying when the Division does not comply with the law. The commuting public was unnecessarily inconvenienced by actions that could have been addressed without leaving commuters stranded.
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