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Dockers return to work as talks continue

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Dock-workers returned to work yesterday after talks were held to try to end a dispute that led to Stevedoring Services Limited staff downing tools this week.

Discussions will continue between SSL and the Bermuda Industrial Union to consider the company's proposed cost-cutting plans, sparked by a downturn in business because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The news came after about 25 dockers formed a picket line at Hamilton Docks on Tuesday to protest against a move to outsource maintenance work.

Warren Jones, the chief executive of Polaris Holding Company, the parent company of Stevedoring Services, said yesterday that a meeting was held at the labour relations office.

He added: “At that time, a series of proposals were agreed which precipitated staff returning to work.

“Upcoming negotiations between SSL and the port workers division of the BIU will be scheduled to consider SSL's cost- saving proposals.”

David Burt, the Premier, tweeted earlier that he was “happy to share” that Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour, told him “that the two parties in the dock dispute came to a resolution earlier this morning”.

Mr Burt thanked Mr Hayward for his “able leadership and to the officers in the Ministry of Labour for their work to get this industrial dispute resolved”.

Mr Hayward said later: “I can confirm that the parties met and reached a resolution.”

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said on Tuesday 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.

Mr Furbert added: “That's not acceptable.”

Otis Minors, the acting president of the union's port workers division, said on Tuesday that dock staff were concerned about a plan to outsource garage work.

Mr Jones explained then that proposals were presented to the union in May when the company predicted a 10 per cent to 15 per cent drop in cargo volume.

He said that the plans included outsourcing of the garage, leaving vacant posts unfilled and ending a lunchtime service.

Mr Jones added that there was no response from the union until August.

He said that the reality of the reduction in business turned out to be a 25 per cent drop in container volume and that other cargo fell by 43 per cent, which meant that the company “started to implement the initiatives” put forward in May.

Mr Jones added that an outside mechanic was hired to fix faulty equipment last weekend when union members continued the suspension of overtime.

When staff returned to work on Monday they discovered that contractors had been brought in to do the work and, after essential items were unloaded from the Oleander, walked off the job.

Mr Furbert did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Picket line: workers at the dock gates on Tuesday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
More than 20 dock-workers formed a picket line at Hamilton Docks on Tuesday to protest against a move to outsource work (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published September 03, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated September 03, 2020 at 10:07 am)

Dockers return to work as talks continue

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