Fahy: Strikes are hurting Bermuda’s reputation
A bid to include public transport and cruise ship tug and line boats as essential services was last night defended by Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy.
Mr Fahy — speaking in advance of a debate on the controversial measure in the House of Assembly — said: “Over the course of last year and this year we have seen far too many instances where members of the public and our visitors have been majorly inconvenienced due to transportation services being pulled because of irregular industrial action.
“In each case, these irregular industrial actions occurred with little or no notice to the public.”
Mr Fahy add that transport shutdowns hit the Island's economic health, with lost Government revenue and disruption to the private sector because employees were unable to travel to and from work.
“Such irregular industrial actions also have a seriously negative effect on our reputation as a premier tourist destination,” he said.
“Hoteliers and cruise lines have raised such matters with this Government. Irregular industrial action in this area has knock-on effects that cause irreparable harm to Bermuda's economy.”
And Mr Fahy said that Government was not attempting to take away workers' right to strike in the event of a dispute — but to add public transport to a list of essential services where a 21-day notice period is needed before strike action can be taken.
“This 21-day notice period represents a ‘cooling off' period which provides management and the union an opportunity to resolve their grievances prior to escalating the matter. This is a sensible and modern practice,” said the Minister.
Mr Fahy added that the issue had been raised with the Bermuda Industrial Union “numerous times in the last year as part of our regular discussions”.
“Two weeks ago I raised the issue again at the Labour Advisory Council,” he said. “At that meeting a fruitful discussion was held, with the BIU confirming its view that public transport could be added to the Act as an essential industry.
“There is currently only one essential industry in the Act and that is hotels. It is the Government's view that public transport is not an essential industry — it is a service and should be treated as such.
“I advised the BIU of the Government's view. We also advised the BIU of the tabling of the Bill in advance.”
Mr Fahy added: “At the end of the day, our primary focus is on ensuring that the people who use these services — the public and our visitors — are not left stranded each time the buses and ferries have a work stoppage.
“The public pays for these services and it's grossly unfair to them when they have no means of getting to work or to school or home when our public transportation services are inoperable due to industrial action without proper notice.
“It also incredibly important to give businesses certainty that their employees will be able to get to work and to ensure that our visitors, who spend money in our Island and create economic opportunity for Bermudians, have the best experience in Bermuda.
“This is all the more important when Bermuda is in a delicate stage of recovery.”
Only some transport operations are at present regarded as essential, including port and dock services, including pilots, tug and line boat operations not connected to cruise ships.
But the Labour Relations Amendment Act 2014 aims to reclassify public transport — including the bus and ferry service — as essential, which means workers in these sectors would not be able to down tools at short notice and escape penalties.