Government has never put in place a drug and alcohol policy at Marine and Ports Department - even though ferry pilots have ultimate responsibility for the lives of passengers they transport every day.

This was the startling revelation that emerged yesterday in the aftermath of the dispute between Government and the Bermuda Industrial Union over sacked ferry pilot Dwayne Pearman.

And it's in stark contrast to what takes place at the Public Transportation Department, where a drug policy hammered about 10 years ago requires bus drivers to submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Tourism and Transport Ministry confirmed the absence of a policy at Marine and Ports.

The spokesman said the policy was "in the developmental stages, with the intention of implementing it in the New Year. That is still the goal and it is expected that the policy will be introduced soon."

Also confirmed was the existence of a "comprehensive drug and alcohol policy" at PTB.

It calls for random drug tests every month, as well as automatic testing following an accident.

If a PTB employee tests positive, he or she is referred to the Employee Assistance Programme. A subsequent positive test will result in the employee being fired.

Government sources, who did not want to be identified, are taking issue with claims made earlier this week by BIU president Chris Furbert that the union had been working with Marine and Ports on a policy.

BIU's role under scrutiny

Our sources attribute the lack of a policy to the BIU dragging its heels.

BIU president Chris Furbert declined to return phone calls from the Bermuda Sun yesterday.

But a source in the business community also attributed Government's capitulation this week to the BIU's demands that Mr. Pearman be put in another job to past practice. The source alleged that on at least two occasions a bus driver and a ferry pilot were reassigned to different jobs after they failed drug tests, although Government said in response, there was no record of a Marine and Ports employee being found guilty in a court of law or having a blood alcohol level that was twice the legal limit.

The dispute over Mr. Pearman began when he crashed the ferry into a dock and was subsequently found to be twice over the legal limit for alcohol.

He pleaded guilty in Magistrates Court to piloting the boat while under the influence of alcohol and was sacked.

The BIU conceded Mr. Pearman stood to lose his pilot's licence, but said he should not have to lose employment altogether.

Government talked tough, but Premier Dr. Ewart Brown eventually backed down when the BIU upped the ante, first with a work to rule, then with threat of a strike by bus drivers and ferry pilots on Thursday.

On Monday, Mr. Pearman will to attend a hearing of a board that will investigate whether he should lose his pilot's licence.

What do you think? Who's at fault in this matter? E-mail editor Tony McWilliam;

tmcwilliam@bermudasun.bm