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Stevedoring chief: Change is necessary

The head of Stevedoring Services broke silence yesterday on the ongoing docks dispute, to counter claims made by Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert.

This after the union leader discussed the deadlock on a local radio talk show.

In a letter to the Editor, company CEO and General Manager, Peter Aldrich said up to now, the company “has remained tight lipped so as not to jeopardise negotiations”. (see attached PDF

And he dismissed the union’s call for the return of royalties on behalf of portworkers if the guaranteed work week is reduced. In one word, he described the system as “archaic”.

“This will clearly not fly in today’s world, which is obviously far different from the economic world when royalties were in place,” said Mr Aldrich.

“I do not believe that the BIU would want to revert to this historic practice — which did not come with the benefits and secure pay currently enjoyed — and I am certain that our clients and consumers simply would not tolerate it.

“This alternative proposal would merely shift the non-productive expense to the importer who would be responsible for paying the royalties. Importers are already struggling to stay afloat and this could surely accelerate their demise.”

Now that negotiations which started in February, 2011 have ended he said: “We feel that the public has a right to receive fair and balanced representation of the facts.

“Our challenge is the decline of cargo import volumes, which has been so significant that current volumes are at year 2000 levels. We and our industry partners believe that import volumes will continue to fall,” said Mr Aldrich.

“Fiscal year to date numbers show import tonnage has declined a further ten percent over the same period last year and total container moves for the same period have also declined a further eight percent.

“Stevedoring’s revenues are directly related to cargo volume and as such we have been feeling the financial strain. Continuing to meet our financial commitments with lower revenues and ever-increasing overheads has become progressively difficult in recent months.

“Company expenses from 2007 to 2012 have been reduced by 24 percent as a direct result of dedicated austerity measures.

“The union is attempting to lead the public to believe that it is the union members only that are being asked to bear the brunt of necessary action following from our falling revenues. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Mr Aldrich.

Since 2006, he said “24 administrative and management staff have been reduced to 14 through natural attrition and redundancies, 50 percent of whom were promoted up through the ranks of the BIU Port Workers Division”.

That number is expected to go down to 13 next year, “the absolute minimum” needed to operate the total workings of the business “safely and effectively”.

“It is not simplistically about the ratio of supervisors to dockworkers, and most people know this to be true,” said Mr Aldrich. “Despite our best efforts, business expenses continue to mount while our revenues decline.”

He also pointed to “significant changes” that have affected the business in recent years including the closure of stripping sheds, the decline in car imports and reduced cruise ship arrivals.

“As the dock has changed so too have our workforce requirements. Stevedoring, however, remains committed as an employer to identifying a solution that is acceptable to our employees, while reasonable and practical for us as a business,” said Mr Aldrich.

On the issue of non-productive time, he said portworkers have three regular work days when there are three ships in port, and two work days when there’s two ships in port.

“This means that we have approximately 40-50 percent of non-productive time for 50 percent of our work force. This method of operation is simply not financially sustainable in the current economic climate,” he said.

Negotiations with the BIU started in February 2011, the company’s final proposal called for a “guaranteed minimum work week of 22.5 hours or 15 hours depending on the shipping schedule” and a “standby pay regime for the balance of the 37.5 hours, which was around 50 percent of the standard pay rate for standby time”. Mr Aldrich noted that “any hours that would have normally attracted an overtime rate of pay would have remained unchanged” without the loss of benefits.

Mr Aldrich concluded: “Despite our best and prolonged efforts, negotiations proved to be unsuccessful. Stevedoring was left with no alternative but to issue two weeks’ notice of temporary layoffs.

“If we are to succeed, we must also accept that there must be change; the simple fact is that maintaining the status quo is not going to keep us in business.

“Any type of change is challenging, but at no time in the history of our company has change been so necessary. Like many local companies at present, we literally cannot afford not to change.”

Moving forward he said the company looks forward to a “speedy resolution through the arbitration process” and the original proposal “remains on the table in good faith”.

Hamilton Docks: Container levels have plummeted

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Published December 07, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated December 07, 2012 at 12:15 am)

Stevedoring chief: Change is necessary

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