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Belco, union tight-lipped on dispute

The island's power supplier is now halfway through a 14-day union ultimatum to reinstate four management staff, but neither side in the dispute would say if talks have taken place.

Unionised Belco workers adopted a work-to-rule last Friday in the wake of an emergency meeting the day before. Ascendant, the parent company of Belco, warned that the industrial action could lead to blackouts.

The company has tackled minor outages this week, but union staff have refused to work emergency shifts or overtime.

Donald Lottimore, the head of the Electricity Supply Trade Union, gave the firm two weeks from last Friday to reinstate four “qualified, displaced Bermudians”.

The union also demanded the removal of Sean Durfy, the Ascendant chief executive, and Robert Schaefer, the company's chief financial officer. The standoff came after an announcement from Ascendant Group that four senior executives had been made redundant or resigned.

Denton Williams, senior vice-president of Ascendant and CEO of Belco, and Zehena Davis, Ascendant's vice-president of human resources, both quit.

Michael Daniel, Ascendant's senior vice-president and chief strategic development officer, and Carol Ross-Desilva, Ascendant vice president of organisational excellence, were made redundant.

The controversy sparked concern from David Burt, the Premier, and Walton Brown, the home affairs minister.

Ascendant's board of directors said last Friday they were “reaching out” to the ESTU and the Government to begin talks.

However, the company's last public statement was a warning from Ascendant last weekend that the work-to-rule would leave the company short staffed, which could lead to “prolonged outages”. Belco reported an outage on Wednesday that left five customers without power in the Tucker's Point area until early afternoon yesterday.

Another seven customers near Gates Bay, St George's, lost electricity yesterday, but power was restored by 5pm. ESTU's restrictions mean outages that fall outside normal working hours could leave customers in the dark. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the ESTU and Belco rules that emergency overtime is “required from time to time” because of “the nature of the electricity supply industry”.

Industrial relations rules say that any “lockout, strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike” is illegal without at least 21 days' notice. It is understood that the ESTU replied to a letter from Ascendant last night, but that no meeting date was arranged.

The Royal Gazette asked Ascendant, the ESTU and the Ministry of Home Affairs if talks had been arranged or if arbitration was under consideration. None of them responded.

Bargaining power: Donald Lottimore, president of the Electrical Supply Trade Union

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Published October 12, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated October 12, 2018 at 8:50 am)

Belco, union tight-lipped on dispute

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