*File photo
*File photo

The new OBA Government could be heading for a stand-off with trades unionists after Finance Minister signalled across the board pay cuts for civil servants.

Kevin Grant, president of white collar union the BPSU, warned that salary cuts could lead to poorer public services – and add to the strain of coping with a recession.

Today’s Budget statement said: “Government will also formally commence negotiations with the relevant unions regarding reduction in staff compensation.”

Mr Richards declined to comment on whether the move could lead to an industrial relations nightmare — or on how big a pay cut Government was looking for.

But he told the Bermuda Sun this afternoon: “I think people understand that the Government needs to save money.

“The whole idea of shared sacrifice, we mean it. All arms of Government have to get involved, quangos included. That’s the only way it can work.”

The Budget statement added that the new SAGE Commission – set up to improve efficiency and cut back on red tape in the public service would soon start its work.

The statement said: “The overarching principle, insofar as cost reduction is concerned for this Government, is that of shared sacrifice.

“It is wrong to ask some people to sacrifice while others get off scot free.

“Accordingly, Cabinet has led the way by example in cutting its own compensation. Others must also share the burden.

“Bermudians are fair people and the inclusion of all in the public sector is the only way for such action to be fair.”

As promised pre-election, the Premier and most OBA Ministers took a pay cut of around ten per cent after the party’s victory at the polls last December. The pay cut will be effective from April 1.

Mr Grant said: “The government at almost every news conference makes sure to mention that they have taken a ten per cent pay cut as if to plant some seeds in the minds of organized labour and although there is nothing officially on the table however any cuts in staff compensation will be hard on the membership.

“This stereotype of public sector workers is unfortunate because if people think that there are not any public sector workers who are living from pay cheque to pay cheque then they are mistaken.”

Mr Grant added: “My members have been out of contract for some time now and although there have not been any drastic cuts, surviving in Bermuda especially in these times has made everyone dig deep.

“I have said already that there will have to be far more creativity and innovation in the upcoming negotiations, because the state that this economy is in now we have never seen before.

“There is pressure on government to attack public sector workers and the BPSU are well aware of the challenges. However, the approach to the issue must be pragmatic and in the best interest of all stakeholders.

“Cuts to the public sector can bring about a number of scenarios that can happen –one of the scenarios is that there could be a reduction in quality public services.

“And if the government is looking to do away with this red tape that has been mentioned cuts could go against that objective—cutting salaries can also have its ramifications in that the strain of making ends meet, could see workers looking to other means to put bread on their tables and shoes on their feet.”

Mr Richards’ Budget statement also said Government would be looking to end a string of perks for police officers.

He said: “The police get perks other people don’t get. They get perks other Civil Servants don’t get – we’re going to talk about these things.”

The Budget statement said Government was committed to providing the police with the resources it needs to tackle an upsurge in gang and gun crime – including funding for extra officers.

But it added: “The Government will move to renegotiate the Police Conditions of Service Order to remove these provisions regarding police compensation which is no longer appropriate.

“While we will not compromise on keeping Bermuda safe, fiscal prudence must be applied even to this vital department.”

Mr Richards declined to comment on what perks might be due for the axe – but it is known, for example, that police officers can get heavily-subsidised accommodation.