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Union finances

One Bermuda Alliance Michael Fahy and community activist Raymond Russell have both come in for an unfair amount of vitriol for their efforts to get the Bermuda Industrial Union to bring its accounts up to date and to ensure they have a clean audit.

Mr Fahy and Mr Russell should not be deterred. Where others appear to have been intimidated or have simply resigned themselves to the union’s failings, they are right to keep pushing the point.

The BIU, like all trade unions, is required to submit annual accounts to the Registrar General as required by the Trade Union Act of 1965. This is not unreasonable. The BIU and other unions represent large numbers of people in the workplace. To do so, they collect dues and other contributions from them. The members have the right to know how the money is spent and given the important influence the unions have on the community, the public does too.

From 1965 until the late 1990s, the union submitted accounts, sometimes a little late, but they were always submitted. Then it stopped. Various reasons have been given for this, none of them insurmountable.

In 2007, the union submitted a consolidated set of accounts for the years 1999-2002, but the Registrar General rightly rejected them. They raised more questions than they answered.

Since then, there has been nothing but promises, apart from repeated attacks on Mr Fahy and Mr Russell, who have essentially been told it is none of their business.

During the period in question, the union, among other things, loaned money to a union-affiliated company to give a performance bond to the contractor building the Berkeley Institute. When the contractor was relieved of the job, the performance bond was called and after a lengthy and expensive arbitration, the union affiliate was found to be liable.

The cost was such that the union appealed to Government to forgive the $6.8 million loan and Premier Ewart Brown agreed, in return for some concessions on wildcat strikes. BIU President Chris Furbert also admitted then that the union had lost millions of dollars in other loans to the contractor, Pro-Active Holdings.

All of this in the past. But the public, and the union’s members are none the wiser about the union’s financial status. Indeed, the Government was in position to take assurances at that time about the financial condition of the union because its accounts were not ready for the scrutiny of the Registrar General. And now, in 2011, nothing has changed.

Mr Fahy rightly says that his party’s concerns are twofold in this. The first point is that workers have a right to know what is happening with their dues, and according to Mr Fahy, are not getting answers which is why he has stepped in.

The second, broader point, is that the BIU is required under law to submit its accounts. Just as it, rightly, expects employers to abide by the laws governing labour relations and the contracts with their members, so the BIU must abide by the rules set down by Parliament.

Mr Fahy and Mr Russell should keep the pressure on and the Government should enforce the law.

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Published August 03, 2011 at 7:00 am (Updated August 02, 2011 at 6:57 pm)

Union finances

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