Enough’s enough: The BPSU’s new President Jason Hayward vows to tackle bullying. *Photo supplied
Enough’s enough: The BPSU’s new President Jason Hayward vows to tackle bullying. *Photo supplied

The new president of the Bermuda Public Services Union (BPSU) says migrant workers are being harassed and bullied at the hospital without repercussions.

Jason Hayward, who assumed his role earlier this month, said  the mistreatment of such employees is a problem at both King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute. He said he learned about the issue at a recent delegates meeting of his union.

“This has existed for years within the hospital and it’s been primarily targeted at the migrant workers,” he said. “They haven’t come forward because they’re afraid they’re contracts will not be renewed. We’re going to tackle this head on. We don’t appreciate bullying or harassment.”

In response to those comments, the Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) released a statement saying: “Bermuda Hospitals Boards takes all reports of bullying and harassment extremely seriously. We are very sensitive to the issue that people might feel exposed making a complaint, but in order for us to address allegations staff do need to speak up. They can either do so in person, or anonymously through an electronic reporting system called Quantros.”

The statement continued: “BHB does ask questions in exit interviews to gain insight into employee experiences, but by that time an employee has already decided to leave. We would rather improve the situation for individuals while they are with us. There are policies that specifically address such behaviours and there are disciplinary processes for people who are found to have bullied and harassed colleagues.   If incidents are reported, BHB will tackle individual behaviours and address serious issues such as this.

Asked if he feared for staff reductions or redundancies at the hospital, Mr Hayward said: “We remain extremely cautious…in this climate anything is possible.”

Mr Hayward succeeded Kevin Grant as the head of the 3,600-member strong union earlier this month.

Sitting in the union’s hall on Monday, Mr Hayward said: “Our principle objective is job security.”

“There’s been a four year pay freeze to prevent job loss. What we want to discuss is how long can we go down that road?”

“The partnership between the BPSU and the government is still in its infancy stages but it’s building. I think we both believe proper dialogue is the way forward.”

Asked if union demands would hinder government’s attempts to deliver services more efficiently, Mr Hayward said: “We support a more productive, a more efficient government. We do. I would like to say I represent the best public servants in the world…and we would like to be part of the process to transform Bermuda government’s public service to the best public service in the world.”

Consultation

One potential sticking point could be consultation. According to the BPSU, there is a stipulation in the union’s contract outlining when and how employers must consult with the union before making labour decisions that affect workers. This issue was at the heart of an industrial strike earlier this year — when management at Fairmont Hamilton Princess made a handful of workers redundant. The Bermuda Industrial Union claimed it was not properly consulted before the redundancies took place. Union workers consequently went on a brief strike.

“There’s still differences of opinion between the union and the government in terms of what constitutes proper consultation,” said Mr Hayward. “Right now we have two expectations when it comes to consultation.”

Is he confident such a discrepancy will be ironed out? “It will have to be.”

Mr Hayward said his union hopes to see: “A clear national strategic plan” from the government so that “the employees can know where they fit into the plan. There may be a plan — it just hasn’t been articulated yet.”

As part of a prospective overhaul — a slew of government departments have been slated for potential privatization, mutualization — wherein workers have ownership stakes in the entity — or outsourcing.

“The uncertainty is troubling,” he said. “There’s high level of anxiety among our members.”