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Furbert: Unions are mulling an end ‘free ridership’

Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert has joined calls for the unemployed to make their presence felt on Labour Day.

And he said his union will continue pushing for changes to some of the Island's labour laws.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Furbert said that Labour Day 2013 is “very significant” falling as it does in the throes of economic recession and the early days of a new Government.

Labour issues which would continue into the next year include employment for Bermudians and the union certification process and the need to clarify labour relations legislation governing disputes, he said.

“There are many people unemployed right now who are not happy that they cannot find employment in their own country, and we continue to have situations like the appointment of the new Commissioner of Education — that's still not sitting well with a lot of people.”

He said given Government's claims to be concerned about employment of Bermudians “one has to ask the $64,000 question: how does something like this happen? In the face of you having so many qualified Bermudians to do the job, that a Bermudian could not be appointed to do that position. It appears that the OBA Government were saying similar things about the PLP Government, now similar things are happening under their administration.”

He said he expected “the largest crowd we have had in a long time” for Monday's Labour Day March, and backed calls by talk show host Larry Scott and others to come out to demonstrate the numbers of unemployed.

Mr Furbert said the BIU had a number of disputes outstanding — some for as along as four years — that should be referred to arbitration by the Labour Minister.

But the Labour Relations Act 1975 specifies that both parties have to agree before the Minister can send a dispute to arbitration — a provision the Minister has claimed has tied his hands.

Another law — the Labour Disputes Act 1992 — does not restrict the Minister's powers to send a matter to arbitration.

“The BIU firmly believes that every time there's a labour issue in this country it should be brought to closure,” Mr Furbert said.

He said the union will be pushing for changes to the Island's labour laws to clarify the process of resolving disputes and the union certification process.

Mr Furbert said the unions were also looking at ending “free ridership” whereby non-unionised employees of a union shop received benefits from union negotiations without having to pay dues.

Currently, those who opt out of union membership have to pay an equal amount of dues to a registered charity.

But Mr Furbert said a service fee should be due to the union, as salary increases and other benefits negotiated by the union are applied to non union employers as well.

“I can tell you that we've put this Minister and the previous Minister on notice that we want to see some changes to that legislation. The free ride should be over.”

As to his message to the workers for Labour Day, Mr Furbert said he wanted to stress the work of the Trade Union Congress in coming to an agreement with the Government.

“We all came together to work on that agreement and in that regard we grew from strength to strength so be encouraged that the TUC is alive and well.

“We have our members' interests at heart in moving the labour process forward and we're looking forward to the support of the TUC membership to get the work done.”

Mr Furbert also stressed that the BIU has always worked with the Government of the day.

“This notion that the BIU is not prepared to work with the OBA Government is utter nonsense,” he said.

“There are some things that we are going to agree on with the OBA and somethings we are not going to agree on with the OBA. No different from the UBP or the PLP.”

United we stand: Participants in the Labour Day parade in 2009 march up Queen Street. BIU boss Chris Furbert has called for the unemployed to make their presence felt on Labour Day this Monday.

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Published August 30, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 30, 2013 at 12:27 am)

Furbert: Unions are mulling an end ‘free ridership’

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