Ferry dispute ends after talks

  • <B>Kevin Bexley and Hayley Grainger </B>paused outside the Hamilton Ferry Terminal yesterday after learning Marine & Ports workers had downed tools to meet with Bermuda Industrial Union chiefs in the wake of not receiving a satisfactory answer from Government about the introduction of a private Dockyard to St George&#146;s service this summer.

    Kevin Bexley and Hayley Grainger paused outside the Hamilton Ferry Terminal yesterday after learning Marine & Ports workers had downed tools to meet with Bermuda Industrial Union chiefs in the wake of not receiving a satisfactory answer from Government about the introduction of a private Dockyard to St George’s service this summer.
    (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)

Ferry workers who downed tools yesterday will return to work at 1pm today, the Bermuda Industrial Union has confirmed.

The impromptu walkout by Marine and Ports workers began just before noon yesterday after union chiefs had issued Government with a 24-hour ultimatum on Wednesday morning to answer staff concerns over the planned charter of a private ferry. The e-mail warned that industrial action could kick in if no answers were received within 24 hours.

Senior Transport Ministry chiefs held talks with BIU leaders throughout the day yesterday and a temporary solution was finally reached at around 11pm, BIU President Chris Furbert explained at a press conference today.

But the walkout continued into this morning because Marine & Ports staff had to attend another BIU meeting in order to be told that a temporary solution had been reached.

At today’s press conference, Mr Furbert said: “We have an agreement to go back to work as of 1pm,” adding that further talks will be held with Government next week.

And he said this morning’s meeting — and further ferry disruptions — had to take place because, by the time an agreement was reached with Government late last night, it was impossible to contact union members with the news.

“What time did we have to consult with our members and tell them to go back to work — I don’t have everyone’s e-mail and telephone number,” Mr Furbert said.

The BIU had claimed Government treated it with “utter disrespect”, after Transport Minister Shawn Crockwell and Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy failed to contact the union after receiving the union’s Wednesday morning strike warning. Instead the matter was passed down to the Acting Director and Acting Permanent Secretary of the Transport Ministry.

At the heart of the dispute is a plan by Government to hire a 400-passenger ferry to run a Dockyard/St George’s service in the summer.

The Bermuda Industrial Union has expressed concern at the proposal, arguing it is a possible backdoor attempt to privatise the ferry service.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, Government is required to give written notice to the union 60 days before privatising any Government function.

BIU bosses claim they had made numerous attempts to discuss the matter with officials ever since the plan was unveiled last month.

And on Wednesday morning, in a last-ditch bid to get the matter resolved, they e-mailed Government a list of questions — and demanded that they be answered within 24 hours.

Last night Marine & Ports division President Sinclair Samuels confirmed that the questions were e-mailed to Transport Minister Shawn Crockwell at 9.30am on Wednesday.

The e-mail was copied to Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy, and also put in a letter delivered to Mr Crockwell that afternoon.

“We gave them 24 hours to respond,” Mr Samuels said.

“That 24 hours was up at 9.30 this morning, which is when I contacted them again and was told that they still didn’t have any answers for us.”

An emergency meeting of ferry workers was then called, at which it was decided that staff would not return to work for the rest of the day.

Although the Ministry was unable to answer specific questions put to it by the union, Acting Director of Marine & Ports Scott Simmons and Acting Permanent Secretary Francis Richardson did meet with union officials yesterday morning, and held subsequent talks in the afternoon.

Those efforts were unable to prevent the walkout and were even condemned by BIU head Chris Furbert as a sign of disrespect by the new OBA administration.

At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mr Furbert confirmed that the ultimatum had been sent to Ministers Crockwell and Fahy, adding: “To date ... I have not, as President of the BIU, heard from either Minister.

“They got the hard copy at 4.15 yesterday afternoon. It’s disrespectful to the BIU that I sent a letter to the Minister and he has not seen fit to pick up the telephone or e-mail.

“People want the BIU to treat the OBA government with respect, but respect has to be earned. They have not gotten off to a good start.”

Asked if the 24-hour deadline for Government to answers was harsh, Mr Samuels said the latest dispute was just one of many ongoing concerns with management that had never been resolved.

“The members are in the trenches waiting to do the work they’ve been asked to do,” Mr Samuels said.

“Sometimes the management give orders that are contradictory to what the workers on the ground know. A lot of those decisions have put the ferry service back.”

Last night a Transport Ministry spokesman suggested that the walkout had come as a complete surprise to Government — and pointed out that the BIU had actually supported the proposal to charter a private ferry at a meeting with Government last month.

“The Marine & Ports Acting Director arranged a meeting with the Department’s BIU Divisional Officers for this morning at 9.30am,” the spokesman said.

“A number of issues were discussed and an agreement made to hold further meetings.

“At midday staff withdrew services and held a meeting at BIU Headquarters.

“The BIU requested a further meeting with Ministry officials at 4pm, which they attended.

“Staff have not returned to work and cancellations of service occurred this afternoon and evening.”

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Published Mar 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm (Updated Mar 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm)

Ferry dispute ends after talks

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