Docks at a standstill in layoffs dispute
Much needed medical supplies, perishable goods and other imports sat stranded on the Hamilton docks yesterday when unionised port workers downed tools.
Prompted by notices of layoffs, Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert asserted nothing will move until the ongoing dispute is settled. And at the end of the day, nothing moved.
A spokeswoman for Stevedoring Services told The Royal Gazette: Management has not undertaken to offload the Oleander at this time and is hoping that the port workers will return to work to carry out this function.
The next ship is due on Wednesday followed by another on Thursday.
The ongoing dispute escalated to a new level after a Supreme Court injunction was lifted two days after the general election.
The layoffs were due to go into effect yesterday, a move that prompted workers to leave the job to meet with union executives.
Said Mr Furbert: My understanding from the Labour Department, particularly Glen Fubler, is that when the Minister got the injunction, she got it under the Trade Disputes Act to send the matter to arbitration.
Because the docks is an essential service, Stevedoring Services made their application to get the injunction lifted because the injunction was granted under the wrong section.
Under normal custom and practice when a matter has been referred to arbitration, both parties positions should stay as normal.
Based on that the Portworkers Division lifted their suspension of overtime on December 11 effective today.
The decision of the division was if management is going to implement layoffs as of today, they have been left with no choice but to withdraw their labour until the matter goes to arbitration and gets resolved.
But Stevedoring Services CEO and General Manager Peter Aldrich said: The Company views this as action short of a strike in an essential service as per the Labour Relations Act 1975 and as such has notified the Minister and the Director of the Department of Labour and Training.
He also apologised to customers and the importing public.
A follow-up statement said: Up to this time we have yet to hear directly from the Port Workers or their organiser as to why they stopped work or when they plan on returning.
We are currently waiting to hear from the Ministry what their intentions are having duly notified them of the work stoppage.
Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy in a statement issued last night said he was disappointed by the latest turn of events.
I think I speak for our entire community — business owners and residents alike — when I say that sudden work stoppages are not the answer.
The effective flow of our trade and commerce is vital to our community, and these instances where organisations seek to solve industrial disputes with wildcat strikes do nothing to help our challenged economy.
We appreciate that within the workplace disputes and complaints will inevitably arise. We also recognise the importance of upholding the rights of the worker and finding a harmonious balance in solving those disagreements. And we also understand the role of the union to act as an advocate for the rights of the worker.
However, again, these are delicate economic times that we are currently in and there is a resolution process in place to avoid such actions like today, said Mr Fahy.
And it is imperative that both management and the union work with us in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and respect to uphold this process.
Ultimately our aim is to ensure an amicable settlement of this dispute, so that the public and businesses are not further adversely affected.
Moving forward he said: I await a report from Labour Relations Officers who are actively working to conciliate and effect a settlement.
Essentially the docks dispute marks the first encounter between the BIU and the new One Bermuda Alliance Government. And Mr Furbert warned this could be the tip of the iceberg.
Already food distributors and grocers have expressed heightened concern.
One distributor warned that employees at Butterfield & Vallis will have to be sent home if there is no movement on the docks today.
Consumer products division general manager Edward Sousa said with no goods offloaded there are no goods for the company to collect.
The fact that no cargo has been touched is cause for concern, our workforce was at a standstill today because we had no containers said Mr Sousa.
Perishables, produce, meats and cheeses cannot tolerate unnecessary time on the docks without going bad which in turn causes losses.
But he was more concerned with the medical supplies bound for King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and the Dialysis Unit sitting on board the Oleander.
These are essential goods and stevedores provide an essential service, they have an obligation to unload the ships and make goods available to importers, he said.
The best case scenario might be that the ship gets unloaded today and returns to the US with no empty containers on board, which has happened in the past.
At the end of the day it's the general public that suffers, but for 39 stevedores to hold the country at ransom seems like were going back in time.
I would like to see this dispute resolved in a 21st century mode where we can put non-perishable goods on the back burner and move the perishable items.
Either way he said he is looking for a speedy resolution because the Bermuda Islander is due in port on Thursday and the Oleander is due to return to Bermuda on Friday.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the MarketPlace said: As nothing was offloaded there is no fresh chicken available and no highly perishable produce such as bananas.
As there has been only been one container ship weekly, the past three weeks due to the holidays there is a shortage of a lot of products which is in port now.
Ultimately he said: The consumer as well as business suffers.
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