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Docks firing to go to arbitration

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Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Workers at Hamilton docks downed tools last week after an employee who had worked there for 27 years was fired.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said that Stevedoring Services staff thought the sacking was “grossly unfair”.

He added: “Workers became very concerned that one of their colleagues all of a sudden found himself out of the job.”

Mr Furbert said the worker, who has not been named, had worked on the docks since 1990 and held a management position since 2015.

He added that the industrial action, where dockworkers unloaded essential items from ships but left non-essential cargo on board, was “very unfortunate”.

Mr Furbert estimated the sacking would go to arbitration in four to six weeks.

The terminated employee remains unemployed but had been paid for outstanding vacation time.

Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, described the action as a “strike” in his statement to the media, but Mr Furbert said he was unaware of the reference and defended the rights of workers to protest.

He added: “We try the best we can to honour that.”

Asked if disgruntled staff had made their intentions known to the union before proceeding with the action, Mr Furbert replied: “They are the union — membership comes first.”

Mr Furbert said that the employee at the centre of the row was fired last Wednesday.

After a “conversation with management” workers downed tools on Thursday.

Mr Furbert went to the docks to speak to workers and management and another meeting was held on Friday morning.

The union leader said he was also contacted by the Department of Workforce Development.

Staff and management were unable to break the deadlock by Friday afternoon.

But Stevedoring Services’ chief executive Warren Jones on Friday evening signalled that the company was prepared to help the dismissed manager find another job.

Mr Furbert said he was contacted on Monday by Mr Brown with an offer to get the matter settled.

He added legal action by Stevedoring Services was averted after the two sides negotiated “what we thought the workers might accept”.

The BIU head also criticised Opposition MP Michael Dunkley, who “last night took the minister to task for not getting the matter resolved sooner”.

Mr Furbert said: “If Mr Dunkley wanted to know the facts, he could have called me.”

And he accused the former OBA Premier of “trying to throw the minister under the bus”.

Mr Furbert said: “The BIU understands management’s right to hire and fire, and their right to choose their management team.

“We never insisted that he be given back his management job.”

Mr Furbert added he was “not at liberty” to discuss what post was offered to the sacked worker.