Striking dock-workers decry ‘slap in the face’
About 25 dockers formed a picket line at Hamilton Docks yesterday to protest against a move to outsource work.
Staff from Stevedoring Services Ltd held signs including “Lies Lies!”, “Tricks” and “Workers' Rights” from about 8am.
Allan Butterfield, who has worked at the docks for 41 years, said that the company's proposal to bring in outside staff to do mechanical work in the garage felt like “a slap in the face”.
But Warren Jones, the chief executive of Polaris Holding Company, the parent company of dock operator Stevedoring Services, said that the firm's plans were in the best interest of the business and employees.
Mr Butterfield added: “The friendship that we had, the friendship is gone — there is no friendship whatsoever with management.
“The friendship is gone out the window for what they're trying to do, outsourcing the garage.”
He added: “It's like a slap in the face because we've worked with the management for years.
“Every time they ask the union to help them, to do something, we do it and now they're turning around and want to outsource the garage, without even talking to the union. That's disrespectful.”
Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, attended the protest and there was also a small police presence.
Mr Furbert said that contract workers were brought in over the weekend to cover overtime, which staff members suspended last week.
He said it was the first time “in the history of the docks” that had happened. He added: “That's not acceptable.”
Mr Furbert said: “There is no essential cargo left on the dock, so now they're out here and they're not going back in until this matter is resolved.”
Otis Minors, the acting president of the union's port workers division, added that members were “really frustrated”.
He said that dock staff were concerned about the plan to outsource garage work as well as “the management team not willing to listen to the BIU negotiating team”.
Mr Minors said: “We have a thing called profit-sharing, so we all share the profits and we should all share the sacrifice.
“If you're looking to make cuts, let's make cuts across the board for everybody.”
Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour, visited the protesters.
He said: “It's my responsibility to find resolutions to industrial disputes and that's the aim of my being here this morning, to get an understanding of the workers' position.
“I'll speak to management and get an understanding of where their position is and see if we can find some common ground between the two parties.”
Mr Hayward added: “At this time, the country doesn't need industrial disputes. However, if workers feel like their rights are being violated, then they will resort to these sorts of actions.”
Mr Jones said later that the proposals were presented to the union in May when the company predicted a 10 to 15 per cent drop in cargo volume.
He added: “We went through June and July with absolutely no response from the union, even after repeated requests to meet.”
Mr Jones said that the plans included outsourcing of the garage, leaving vacant posts unfilled and ending a lunchtime service.
Stevedoring Services's garage staff were guaranteed work with the new vendor but Mr Jones admitted that position had since changed.
Mr Jones added that there was no response from the union until August.
He explained that the reality of a reduction in business turned out to be a 25 per cent drop in container volume and that other cargo fell by 43 per cent.
Mr Jones said: “We had to take steps and we started to implement the initiatives that we had on the table in May.
“How long were we supposed to sit and wait with no information from the union? And when we came back to the table their expectation was that we just continue on as if it didn't occur.”
The CEO claimed that work rates were slower than expected last week and that an overtime ban was introduced on August 24.
He said: “We observed, even though with all the staff back, we were on Thursday with the Bermuda Islander, while they were working, they were working slow.”
Mr Jones added: “Throughout Covid, when we were working with only one gang, we were averaging 23 to 25 containers an hour moving off the ship.
“Thursday we saw seven and eight. A ship that should have taken us one day, took us two days. We had equipment that had been down throughout the Covid period, now we had all staff back — still wasn't getting repaired.”
He said that at the end of last week the company anticipated the arrival of the Oleander on Monday and the Somers Isles yesterday and feared that pressure on management was mounting.
Mr Jones added: “If we can't work a ship, the entire island is going to put pressure on us to get it resolved as quickly as possible.
“So on the weekend — they have an overtime ban in place ... so they're not working. I hired a mechanic to come in and repair equipment to prepare us for Monday — equipment that had been down.
“That equipment was repaired for Monday.”
He said that garage staff were told that September 25 would be their last day — a five-week notice period.
Mr Jones added that two of the six affected employees had asked for redundancy packages and a third had confirmed interest in an interview with the contractor.
He said: “I can't speak to what happens next, our position is clear, it is what we believe is in the best interests of the company and also in the best interests of the staff, believe it or not.”
Mr Jones added that the garage work was “not a revenue earner” and the team had transferable skills so there is “potential for them to land on their feet”.