Court orders Belco staff back to work
Workers at power firm Belco were last night ordered back to work after a strike was called over a stand-off with the company’s management.
Electricity Supply Trade Union members were given a legal warning to end their industrial action after a court ruling.
A spokesman for Ascendant, the parent company of Belco, said: “Ascendant Group Limited this afternoon obtained an order from the Supreme Court directing members of the Electricity Supply Trade Union to return to their full employment effective immediately.
“The order states that the ESTU ‘shall be restrained from contravening the Labour Relations Act 1975 by means of a strike or withdrawal of labour or any irregular industrial action short of strike which shall include picketing or any work-to-rule’.”
He added: “It is expected that ESTU members will comply with the order and return to work with immediate effect and normal operations will resume.”
Donald Lottimore, the ESTU president, last night declined to comment until union members had discussed the legal ruling.
Staff downed tools yesterday after talks with management on Thursday night failed to end a deadlock sparked by the departure of four non-unionised Bermudian management staff and anger about the management style of Sean Durfy, Ascendant’s chief executive officer.
The union imposed a work-to-rule at the company over the row two weeks ago.
The court move came after the union stuck to demands made on October 4 to Ascendant, which also included the removal of Mr Durfy, as well as Robert Schaefer, the company’s chief financial officer.
The union also wanted the reinstatement of four Bermudian management staff who had earlier left the company.
Mr Lottimore said that after a meeting at the Bermuda Industrial Union headquarters yesterday, members had agreed to halt their two-week work-to-rule and voted for “withdrawing our labour to make sure our membership’s demands are heard”.
He confirmed that the action was a strike and workers picketed Belco’s Pembroke headquarters until 5pm.
Mr Lottimore said that the strike could mean power cuts and added: “There is a potential for things to be affected as long as we are at an impasse.”
Ascendant warned earlier that the lack of manpower had made “an immediate impact” and the company could not guarantee an uninterrupted electricity supply.
But the firm added that power for essential services would be maintained in the event of outages.
A spokesman explained: “As the industrial action continues throughout the day, our ability to maintain a reliable electricity supply is diminished and there is an increased likelihood of widespread outages.
“Medical priority customers should consider attending the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital to ensure they have access to the required care and resources.”
David Burt, the Premier, said the statement was “unhelpful, considering the need for both sides to work together in the best interests of Bermuda”.
Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, said discussions to break the deadlock were continuing.
He added: “This dispute has emphasised the importance of the issues at stake and where possible, this ministry will work to bring the parties together to achieve some resolution.”
Mr Lottimore did not rule out the possibility of arbitration in a bid to end the deadlock.
He added: “The key part of the dispute is the respect of the employees that we feel this particular CEO does not have.”
Mr Lottimore said the union had made “considerable sacrifices” over the past ten years and accused Ascendant of using cost-cutting as a justification for the erosion of staff benefits.
He was speaking after more than 100 unionised workers marched to the BIU for a four-hour closed doors meeting.
The stepped-up industrial action came two weeks after the power union locked horns with management.
Passers-by sounded their horns yesterday afternoon in a show of support for the picket line outside Belco.
One power worker said that the industrial action was designed to get rid of Mr Durfy.
He added: “He’s not listening, we want him out.”
Signs at the Belco customer care office on Serpentine Road said it was closed and that the company “sincerely apologised for the inconvenience”.
One elderly customer waiting at the closed office to pay her electricity bill said: “I just want to pay my bill — it’s an inconvenience for me. It doesn’t look like anyone is coming.
“Christmas is coming but it doesn’t look like any staff are.”
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