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SAL workers plan quickfire return

United front: unionised workers at SAL downed tools at the company’s Devonshire headquarters and protested comments by Vance Chapman, the chief executive, which they perceived as a threat on their jobs. The matter was resolved during the day and the company’s two stores will be open today (Photograph by Fiona McWhirter)

Staff at a building supply company downed tools yesterday in a row over workers’ contracts.

About 20 employees from across the retail, transport and plant departments at SAL Trading were involved in the action and protested outside the firm’s Devonshire base.

Wornell Steede, the Bermuda Industrial Union chief shop steward at the firm, said a meeting with management at about midday resulted in a positive outcome, and retail staff at the firm’s Southampton shop were expected to return to their duties as normal today.

Staff in the transport and plant departments, who do not work weekends, are expected to resume normal duties on Monday.

Mr Steede said earlier the staff had taken strike action over an “ultimatum” delivered by SAL chief executive Vance Campbell, who is a government senator.

Mr Campbell and a company manager said no formal grievances had been lodged and the industrial action was a surprise.

Mr Steede explained: “We were in the process of negotiations and we had cleared everything on our schedule up to the wages.

“We really weren’t pushing for an increase this year, but in the negotiations something was said that triggered a thought. We have fixed-term contract workers, which are one-year contract workers, and they renew their contracts every year.

“The new CEO, who has been in this position for a month, senator Vance Campbell, has given us an ultimatum, and said, if you demand a raise, these contracts which haven’t been signed will not be signed.”

Mr Steede said three contracts were affected and described the action as an “outright strike”.

He added: “There’s no more work going on.

“We came to work with the intention of not doing anything today, because, Vance Campbell, made the threat of not signing these contracts and putting these guys’ jobs in limbo.”

Mr Steede said the workers were also concerned about the safety of company vehicles and a lack of financial support for the garage staff who maintain them.

He added that the action was taken to ensure employees would not be used as a tool for bargaining in the future.

Mr Steede said: “If we allow this to continue, then what’s going to happen later on?

“You don’t have no respect for your staff now, what’s going to happen down the line?”

Mr Campbell said before the midday talks: “We are in the midst of negotiations, and we, the company, believe that the action taken by the unionised workers today is contrary to the collective bargaining agreement, and the spirit with which we undertook the start of our negotiations.”

He added: “We’ve received nothing from the workers as far as grievances or claims.”

Mr Campbell said: “I don’t know what they’re talking about, no threat has been made, no ultimatum was given.”

Mr Campbell added: “This company is very concerned about safety. Safety is very high on our priorities, and this company will do everything within its power to maintain that high level of safety within the company and to protect our workers.”

Brian Hollis, the contracts manager, added: “This is all a big surprise to us.”

Mr Steede explained after the meeting: “We’ve made some progress with the contract workers. He has agreed to renew their contracts, and we’re returning back to work on Monday, and we will resume negotiations after that.”

He added: “We’re not pushing for wages, we’re making sure that these guys’ contracts are signed, we felt that they were used as a pawn for us to negotiate any outstanding wages.”

Mr Steede said: “We’re all happy with the outcome.”

Mr Campbell later declined to go into details about the issues raised at the meeting and pointed out that the company would not negotiate through the media.

He said: “We’re just pleased that we were able to resolve the issue — at least come to an agreement whereby the workers would be back on the job on Monday.”