Ministerial Statement by the Minister of Cabinet Office with Responsibility for Government Reform, The Hon. Lovitta F. Foggo, JP, MP
Good morning, Mr. Speaker.
I rise to provide an update to the Members of this Honourable House on the status of the negotiations with the Government’s five Union partners specific to six Collective Bargaining Agreements.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will be aware that the Government had pledged to “conclude negotiations with Public Sector Unions to ensure continued provision of high-quality public services”, within its first one hundred days in office.
The Public Sector Negotiating Team (PSNT) comprised of Gary Philips, Chair, together with John Harvey and Martin Law, initially appointed by the former Government, and retained for continuity purposes by the current Government, have remained focused on concluding the process.
Mr. Speaker, to date, Collective Bargaining Agreements have been executed with the Bermuda Public Services Union and the Fire Services Association. Agreements in principle have been reached with the Bermuda Industrial Union and the Bermuda Union of Teachers. It is expected that these agreements will be executed within the coming days.
Mr. Speaker, talks continue with the Prison Officers Association and the School Principals. The School Principals are represented as a separate bargaining unit by the Bermuda Public Services Union. Talks with both groups are at varying stages though it is anticipated that they will progress quite quickly.
Mr. Speaker, the Bermuda Police Association has not as yet given notice of its intent to commence negotiations. Such notice is in accordance with the statutory provision as set out in the Conditions of Service Order. The Government remains hopeful that a communication confirming the Association’s readiness to commence negotiations will be received shortly.
Mr. Speaker, the Government has taken the decision that there will be parity amongst all of its employees. To this end all Government employees will contribute equally to health insurance.
There has long been disquiet over what can be described as an unacceptable situation wherein some groups of employees contribute 50% towards the Government Employee Health Insurance (GEHI) scheme whilst other groups have both the employer and employee portions of their GEHI paid by the Government. This can no longer continue as the norm.
Mr. Speaker, the PSNT stands ready, in accordance with their mandate, to work with those Union partners, wherein agreements remain outstanding, to regularize this imbalance as a part of the negotiations process.
Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not highlight a false assumption.
This Government, like the people of Bermuda, prior to July 18th, was under the distinct impression that negotiations with all of the Unions were in progress prior to the general election and had been for over a year.
Yet, upon taking Office it emerged that while the PSNT had been in ongoing talks with the Unions under the guise of negotiations, they had not been given a formal mandate, and therefore could not advance those talks to the negotiations stage.
Mr. Speaker, the PSNT had been retained to simply have talks with the Unions as opposed to earnestly negotiate Collective Agreements.
These disingenuous and unproductive talks resulted in skeptism and mistrust. Valuable time was wasted in having to address the negative relationship issues that had evolved prior to commencing honest negotiations.
Mr. Speaker, this Government moved quickly to review the matter and to provide the PSNT with a clear mandate to ensure a positive outcome.
Mr. Speaker, this Government is committed to engendering again a respect for the workers in the public service.
Further, the Government is committed to building productive employer, employee and union relationships.
Notwithstanding that we, in our role as employer and the Unions, sit on opposite sides of the bargaining table and sometimes represent divergent interest, it is our firm belief that these relationships can be healthy and productive.
Mr. Speaker, this Government will work with the unions to cultivate improved organizational performance, which will ultimately benefit the Government, the employees, and by extension the people of Bermuda.
Mr. Speaker, in the future Honourable Members can expect that our relationship with our Union partners will be based upon mutual respect, regular communication, proactive policies and teamwork.
At the conclusion of this round of negotiations our Union partners can expect that we will convene a series of initial meetings to commence discussions on issues affecting the delivery of public services, the Government, and the employees.
Thereafter, the Unions can expect that we will invite their participation in the government reform strategic planning process. In the meantime, our Union partners will be consulted on those short term reform initiatives that the Government plans to advance so that we are armed with their views on the most effective way to achieve successful outcomes in the best interest of all parties.
Mr. Speaker, I am eternally grateful to all those who have been engaged in the negotiations process and I look forward to working with our Union partners on building a better and fairer Bermuda as we undertake to establish a more efficient Public Service.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.