Shoppers and retailers expected to feel effect of dock dispute today
Starting today, shoppers will see the effects of an ongoing standoff between dockworkers and management, as meat, dairy products and other perishables are kept from reaching the shelves.
“We've seen no change in the dispute,” said Zach Moniz, manager of Lindo's Group. “It will be Monday where we feel it the most.”
Containers of food from the MV Oleander, normally unloaded on Sunday evening, will have been unpacked from first thing this morning instead.
This is because union workers at the docks have been ordered not to offload containers during evenings and weekends, due to a ban on overtime work after negotiations between the Bermuda Industrial Union and Stevedoring Services ground to a halt.
The ban, which went into effect last Wednesday, reduces working hours for the 40 BIU port workers to 8am until noon, and 1pm to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.
That cut will be felt from today, Mr Moniz explained, as it hits the weekly Oleander service bringing goods from the US to Bermuda.
He said: “Whereas we would normally have the products on the shelves by 10.30am, now it's not going to be out until 5pm, which means shelves are going to be empty. We lose a whole selling day for those products.”
The delay in products, ranging from fresh chicken to yoghurt, also plays havoc on the complex work schedules of supermarket staff.
“We have staff who normally deal with those products who will be trying to do ten hours' work in five,” Mr Moniz said.
“They'll be working between 2pm and 7pm to get those products out, which will be an inconvenience for us. I'm not sure how it affects the stevedores they will process the same amount of orders, with or without overtime. Ultimately, it's more of an inconvenience for the consumer.”
The weekly Bermuda Container Lines link to Port Elizabeth, New Jersey ordinarily sees cargo from the Oleander available for collection at 6am sharp on Mondays.
As a company that prides itself on its produce and meat selection, Lindo's will be watching this morning's offload closely.
“If we can get it from 10am, great, the overtime's not affecting us,” Mr Moniz said.
The same factor that caused the labour dispute, a fall in economic activity expressed in less container loads to the Island, may also speed up the unloading of containers.
However, for a supermarket, the quickest containers unloaded are their own direct containers. In many cases, the cargo is divided between several vendors.
“With yoghurt or chicken, where you're getting only part of a container, it could be Tuesday morning until it reaches us,” said Mr Moniz.
Containers are refrigerated, and spoilage is not an issue for perishable items but their brief shelf-life also means stores cannot stock extra to cover delays.
After 15 years in the business, Mr Moniz has seen many dock labour disputes including the May 2009 ban on overtime at the docks, which had a similar impact.
“Generally speaking, they get these matters resolved pretty quickly,” he said. “I don't know if this one could be different.
“The unions and stevedoring have to meet in the middle. Unfortunately, the retailers, vendors, distributors and consumers are the ones affected.”
It also means that butchers and produce staff may have unwelcome time on their hands at supermarkets this morning.
The dispute is currently in the hands of a labour relations officer. According to Economy Minister Kim Wilson, the matter will go before arbitration if it cannot be settled.
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