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Judge rules against docks firm in union leader’s son labour case

Hamilton Docks (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Supreme Court has upheld a decision to refer a dispute between dock-workers and management over the termination of the son of a union leader to a tribunal.

Stevedoring Services had called for a judicial review of labour minister Jason Hayward’s decision to refer the matter to a tribunal, arguing that disagreements over the 2020 termination of Chris Furbert Jr did not amount to labour dispute.

However, Puisne Judge Jeffrey Elkinson rejected the application after he found it was “quite clear” a labour dispute had arisen.

Mr Justice Elkinson said: “The court makes no attempt to determine who is right or who is wrong in the underlying disagreement between the applicant and Chris Furbert Jr.

“However, I am satisfied that the evidence shows that this was more than a simple employment dispute.”

The court heard the conflict arose after a disagreement between Mr Furbert – the son of Chris Fubert Sr, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union – and another employee, Joshua Butler, which allegedly resulted in a physical altercation.

Mr Furbert denied a charge of assault in Magistrates’ Court but as a condition of his bail he was not allowed to have contact with Mr Butler and both men were suspended with pay.

Warren Jones, of Stevedoring Services, said in court that on February 6, 2020, Mr Furbert was terminated for gross misconduct after he attended the docks in breach of his suspension and threatened him.

Mr Furbert said he had attended the docks to collect something from his locker and complete a vacation request form. He denied threatening Mr Jones, but said that he spoke to him about what he considered a double standard in how he and Mr Butler had been treated.

A police complaint was made about the alleged threat, but the Department of Public Prosecutions determined that no offence had been committed and no charges were brought.

The Government sent notification to Stevedoring Services on December 7, 2020, that there was a dispute, although the firm denied that was the case.

Stevedoring Services argued in the Supreme Court that Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour, had failed to give reasons to support the claim that there was a labour dispute.

The firm suggested that the claim of a labour dispute came only after the time Mr Furbert had to file a complaint under the Employment Act had run out.

However, Mr Justice Elkinson said that Stevedoring Services was aware that the termination of Mr Furbert would likely spark a labour dispute.

He said that Mr Jones acknowledged a notice was drafted the Monday after Mr Furbert was terminated that warned staff they would need a sick note if they called in sick and those who refused to work would not be paid.

Mr Justice Elkinson said: “It is quite clear that there was, and it remains the situation, a dispute between a worker and a union on his behalf, wholly or partially relating to the termination of employment of a worker.

“I find that this dispute arose on February 6, 2020 and has never been resolved.”

Mr Justice Elkinson said that while Mr Hayward did not give his reasons for making the referral in writing, it did not mean the decision was irrational or unreasonable given that he had received a report from a labour relations manager.

That report said that a labour dispute was reported in February 2021 and attempts to mediate had been unsuccessful.

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