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A disservice to Bermuda

There can be very few people left in Bermuda who do not recognise the gravity of the recession and the desperate need for Bermuda to improve its levels of service and competitiveness.

Those who are left, based on the events of the last week, seem to be concentrated at Bermuda Industrial Union headquarters.

Prior to that, the events seemed to suggest that the BIU did understand the problem, and appeared to be ready to reach agreements that gave some job security in return for wage freezes and other concessions.

But two incidents this week suggest that the Union has not taken the message completely on board.

Unionised stevedores have now begun an overtime ban, meaning that unloading of ships will not take place on Sundays or after normal working hours. This will inevitably cause backlogs, meanings importers will be unable to get their goods on their shelves in a timely manner. That means that residents and visitors will not be able to buy what they need when they need it, and in the case of the tourist trade in particular, those sales will be lost.

It is a fact, and the union recognises this, that imports have fallen by at least ten percent in each of the last two years and were at their lowest level in eight years by value in the first quarter of 2011. And yet the union and Stevedoring Services cannot agree on a revised work schedule to recognise this drop-off. As a results, workers are being paid to do nothing and the company’s financial position must be worsening.

It is difficult to tell people they will be earning less money, and this newspaper does not know all of the details of the current offer being made by Stevedoring Services. But common sense would dictate that taking reduced or revised hours, at a time when cargo volumes have dropped by at least 20 percent over two years, in return for job security makes sense. Even if that is completely objectionable, mediation and, if that fails, arbitration, would seem to be the best avenue.

The worst avenue is the current overtime ban or another form of industrial action. At a time when Bermuda as a whole should be falling over itself to serve its customers, any form of industrial disruption is disastrous in the long term. Bermuda can no longer afford (if it ever really was able to) the luxury of ceasing or reducing service when it suits.

In the case of the docks dispute, there are two sides to the issue and difficult choices have to be made. The case of the dispute over the bus driver who has refused a drugs test after being involved in an accident seems absolutely clear cut and it is disappointing that the BIU is making an issue over it.

Indeed, the only reason that the union appears to be so emboldened is because the Public Transportation Board failed to stand up for its management when it tried to dismiss a driver earlier this year.

Nothing else makes sense, because the management, if their version of events is accurate, have right on their side and must be supported.

Even so, as with the docks dispute, the correct route is mediation followed by arbitration, not threats and the staging of “meetings” in the middle of the working day. Again, Bermuda has enough trouble attracting visitors without these kinds of disruptions. It is terrifying to wonder how many cruise ship passengers were stranded in Dockyard when they wanted to go to the South Shore beaches because the drivers had to attend a meeting.

Bermuda has enough problems without creating more for itself. The union must exercise more restraint if Bermuda is to recover from the current economic crisis.

Work gets on the way at the Hamilton Docks Monday morning trucks were lined up to be loaded and unloaded with hundreds of containers that would have been originally moved off the docks on Sunday night but do to the over time ban work dock was extremely busy the next morning. The container ships Oleander and Somers Isle which would have usually left first thing Monday morning will now leave on Tuesday ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )

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Published August 16, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 16, 2011 at 10:00 am)

A disservice to Bermuda

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