Unionised firefighters put heat on airport dispute

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A long-running dispute between BAS-Serco and its six unionised firefighters boiled over again yesterday when all six firefighters went on strike.

The move comes a week after Assistant Justice Philip Storr granted an injunction which barred the Bermuda Industrial Union members from attending an arbitration hearing set up by Government to work out a new pay deal.


A long-running dispute between BAS-Serco and its six unionised firefighters boiled over again yesterday when all six firefighters went on strike.

The move comes a week after Assistant Justice Philip Storr granted an injunction which barred the Bermuda Industrial Union members from attending an arbitration hearing set up by Government to work out a new pay deal.

Last week, BIU president Derrick Burgess told The Royal Gazette the matter had been referred to a permanent arbitration tribunal by Labour Minister Terry Lister after the union issued a strike notice.

"For some unknown reason, the court ruled the union could not attend, but the management could," Mr. Burgess said yesterday. "It's silly. We just don't understand it."

BAS-Serco lawyer Alan Dunch had previously said Mr. Justice Storr had taken his decision because of the issue of union recognition was still before the courts.

However, because of the court's ruling, Mr. Burgess said, the 21-day strike notice issued in December, 2002 is still in effect.

"And we can strike," Mr. Burgess said.

When asked whether the strike action is illegal since firefighters are part of an essential service, the union president was adamant no laws were broken.

Mr. Burgess added, because of the Supreme Court ruling, Mr. Lister's hands were tied.

"The Minister cannot do anything because of what the court has done.

"Once he (Mr. Justice Storr) handcuffed the Minister, it put our strike notice back in action."

He also criticised the court's decision.

"A court is not supposed to interfere with arbitration hearings. Arbitration is designed to settle disputes," Mr. Burgess said. "Legislation is set up for labour disputes. There's no provision in the law to do what he did."

Asked how long the strike action would continue, Mr. Burgess said: "At this point, I really can't say. It's up to the workers. There's no telling how long they'll be on strike."

Meanwhile, while he said he was confident the ongoing dispute would be settled soon. Airport general manager James Howes said the strike action had not affected any flights arriving or departing Bermuda.

"There has been no effect at all," he said. "They were able to maintain staffing levels because not all of the 22 firemen went on strike."

However, Mr. Howes said if the action continues, he and his staff would have to develop plans to continue the operation of the airport.

"But I hope that is a hypothetical question. No flights have been affected and we do not foresee any interruptions at this time."

Efforts to contact Mr. Dunch were unsuccessful.

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Published Feb 8, 2003 at 12:01 am (Updated Feb 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm)

Unionised firefighters put heat on airport dispute

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