The president of the island’s blue-collar union said yesterday that bus staff should not be disciplined after the service ground to a halt on Monday. Chris Furbert insisted: “There should be no repercussions.”
The Bermuda Industrial Union leader said that employees would have been paid extra for work on Monday because it was a public holiday. “I wouldn’t advise any employer to discipline a worker because they decided not to work any overtime,” Mr Furbert added.
He was speaking after bus services were cancelled on National Heroes Day. Mr Furbert said industrial action would have been taken no matter which government was in power.
He added: “Let’s be clear — this would have happened under a UBP government, it would have happened under a PLP government, it would have happened under an OBA government.”
Mr Furbert said that union members had voted in favour of a work-to-rule at a meeting held last Tuesday. He said the withdrawal of labour was the result of anger over problems that staff felt had not been tackled by the Government.
He said some of the complaints — including the poor condition of the bus fleet — dated back “three to five years”.
Mr Furbert said: “The workers have made it clear that all they want is some kind of timeframe as to when these issues are going to be addressed.”
The work-to-rule came into force last Friday.
Mr Furbert added the Department of Public Transportation was informed of the work-to-rule on Wednesday night.
He added: “They had at least a day-and-a-half notice as to what was going to be taking place.”
Walton Brown, Minister of Home Affairs, warned over the weekend that industrial action by transportation staff would be illegal.
But Mr Furbert said he spoke to Mr Brown on Saturday.
He said: “I said to him I’m not sure who gave you the advice that you got, but this is not correct.”
Mr Furbert added: “And if people are going to say, whether its employers or the public, that workers don’t have a right to go on a work-to-rule and suspend overtime then that means we are going back to slavery.”
Questions sent to Mr Brown about whether action would be taken for Monday’s bus cancellations were not responded to by press time yesterday.
Mr Furbert said that he spoke to Walter Roban, the Minister of Transport, three times on Sunday.
He said: “The minister has given a commitment that he wants to sit down and address these issues.”
Mr Furbert said that it had never been the bus operators’ intention to stop services.
But he added: “If it looks like we’re not getting management’s attention on issues and it’s going to take this kind of stuff to get everyone’s attention, well, if that’s what it’s going to take, we apologise.
“It’s unfortunate, extremely unfortunate, that it’s come to this.”
Mr Furbert said that the responsibility for the dispute was shared.
He added: “You want to put some of it on my members’, we’ll take that, but we can’t take it all.
“Government’s got to take some of it, the employer’s got to take some of it, and the public for not insisting, whether it’s the OBA back then or the PLP now, that they find some money to buy new buses like the OBA Government found money to have the America’s Cup.”
Kevin Dallas, chief executive at the Bermuda Tourism Authority, said yesterday: “While Monday’s interruption in bus service did inconvenience some visitors, we were pleased by the extent to which other forms of transportation, like taxis and minibuses, filled the gap — especially for the concentration of arriving Dockyard cruise passengers looking for, and willing to pay for, convenient transfer to our beaches.
“The Bermuda Tourism Authority thanks everyone who helped keep our guests moving.”
Leah Scott, Shadow transport minister, slammed the DPT for its “confusing” messages about the holiday bus service.
Ms Scott said: “Despite receiving reassurances that there would be no disruption in the bus service and no inconvenience to the general public in respect of the bus service on Bermuda National Heroes Day, there was no bus service.”
Ms Scott added the situation demonstrated a “communication problem” in the DPT.
She said: “Both locals and our visitors were inconvenienced because of it.” Ms Scott added: “There was an obvious disconnect between the workers and management and as a result members of our community and our guests suffered the consequences of the lack of clear direction and leadership.”
The BIU was scheduled to meet Roger Todd, director of the Department of Public Transportation, yesterday afternoon. The Government announced 95 bus routes were cancelled yesterday afternoon and evening.