Probe launched into dismissal of two clinic employees who pushed for unionisation
Two employees fighting for union representation at a health clinic run by former Premier Ewart Brown have been sacked.
And an investigation into alleged staff intimidation at Bermuda Healthcare Services (BHCS) has now been launched by the Workforce Development Department — formerly the Labour Department.
Yolanda Dowling, who worked at the clinic for more than four years, was dismissed on Tuesday morning — the day after ZBM News broadcast a report on alleged unrest at BHCS over unionisation.
Ms Dowling said she was informed by management that she was fired for discussing the union issue with a patient the day before. She denies the allegation.
Miss Dowling’s colleague, Sherika Bell, was sacked last week for allegedly cursing in front of a patient almost two weeks earlier.
Ms Dowling told The Royal Gazette that seven out of ten staff eligible for union membership had voted in favour of joining the Bermuda Public Service Union (BPSU) in June, and that she and Ms Bell had been the “ringleaders” for unionisation.
“We all love our jobs here, we love what we do, and we love our patients. Nobody really wanted to leave, but the question of our rights and employment terms needed to be addressed,” Ms Dowling said.
The two women met with BPSU General Secretary Ed Ball on Tuesday to discuss their dismissals, and an investigation into the process of unionisation at the clinic has now been launched.
Last night Mr Ball said that, although neither employee had been given the opportunity to challenge their dismissals, that did not represent a breach of employment laws by BHCS management.
“I will not discuss specifics as there is an active investigation taking place by the Workforce Development Department, formerly the Labour Department,” Mr Ball said.
“I can confirm that seven persons did sign up as members. I personally met with all of them and I am very mindful of the alleged workplace challenges that these ladies have experienced.
“The termination of the ladies was per Section 25 of the Employment Act 2000. The Act does not afford a worker any opportunity of a formal hearing with the employer to ascertain the nature of the complaint against them or who is the accuser.
“What the union has discovered in Bermuda is that, when there are long delays in the grant of certification — taking the ballot for recognition — of a pending bargaining group, some employers resort to allegedly finding some ground to dismiss the employee so that the numbers are decreased to defeat the union winning the ballot.
“Most times, many Bermudian employees have no defined employment contracts or personal policies and so the decision to dismiss tends to be at times arbitrary. Why so? Unless the worker is given the opportunity to defend themselves, then it remains arbitrary.”
Asked if the BPSU was concerned by claims that pro-union staff were being subjected to a campaign of intimidation, Mr Ball replied: “I cannot speak to this as the Labour Relations Officer is conducting an investigation.
“What I will speak to is that some Bermudian employers do often attempt to intimidate workers when they seek union representation and in exercising their right for the union to bargaining on their behalf. This is the number one compliant of most unions — that it takes too long for the certification, which allows some employers to use covert methods to dismiss workers.
“Hopefully there will be amendments to the trade union acts to bring them more in line with 21st century thinking of progressive countries. Bermuda is lagging behind.”
Earlier this week BHCS issued a statement claiming that it was “following” the unionisation process.
“During the month of August, BHCS was notified by the Workforce Development Department that the Bermuda Public Services Union had approached them regarding the unionisation of our medical office,” the statement said.
“The Department indicated that a small number of our employees had approached the union to seek representation. Our lawyer has been in communication with the Workforce Development Department since the initial correspondence was received and we are following the process.
“If our employees desire union representation, they have a right to pursue their goal. We have not and will not disrespect the process as laid down in the law.
“However, our most precious obligation at BHCS is the quality of care for our patients. Any conduct which threatens that quality will be managed accordingly.
“Therefore, our employees must remember that union representation will not bring with it an atmosphere in which our patients are disrespected or mistreated.”
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