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BIU members start work to rule as decertification row worsens

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BIU press conference on work to rule and overtime ban: Dwight Jackson, general secretary of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress, with Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A work to rule by Bermuda Industrial Union workers started yesterday as a rift with the Government over union decertification widened.

Chris Furbert, the BIU president, said both sides had “drawn lines in the sand on the issue”.

He added: “Is this some form of dictatorship by the Government and the minister?”

But Jason Hayward, the labour minister, responded: “I do not accept this is a matter of survival for the BIU. The same composition of persons who were able to vote prior to June 1 continue to enjoy that those rights now.

“There has not been a significant shift in composition for me to accept that somehow the union’s survival has been compromised.”

Mr Furbert announced the union would come to a decision on whether it would take further action next Friday.

He declined to specify what impact on services such as public transportation could be expected.

Dwight Jackson, the general secretary of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress, said sister unions “overwhelmingly” supported the BIU.

Mr Jackson added: “We want to be able to settle this through dialogue and diplomacy.

“However, if it has to go further, that’s what we will do.”

Mr Furbert said it was “unbelievable” that the Progressive Labour Party government along with Jason Hayward, the labour minister and a former union leader, would not yield on regulations for decertification that came into effect on June 1.

The union has insisted that only full-paying union members should get a vote on decertification, in which workers decide whether to keep union representation in their workplace.

The Government has vowed to allow all workers within a bargaining unit to have a vote.

The Royal Gazette understands the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 2021 is consistent with legislation on union certification dating back to 2000.

Mr Hayward said he could not speak to the potential for work-to-rule to disrupt services.

He added: “An assessment will be done on the potential disruption to both private and public services.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works said there was a chance that trash collection could be affected by the BIU initiating a work-to-rule.

He added: “However, the extent of this is difficult to gauge at this time.”

Mr Hayward said the Government’s position on the issue was “sound, fair and reasonable”.

“We will not be forced to strip the rights of workers within a bargaining unit.”

Mr Hayward said he did not envision arbitration as an option, adding: “I don’t believe an arbitrator can realistically bind a Government to change the law.”

Mr Furbert said the BIU was prepared to yield on a “happy medium” of a percentage of workers permitted to vote on decertification.

He said there was “a proposal on the table that the BIU is prepared to move on”. He added: “There is a number we are not prepared to go below.”

Mr Hayward said the Government had no yet received any formal proposal from the BIU.

But he said it would mark “a significant shift in their fundamental position” if the BIU were to accept non-union members for a workplace ballot.

The BIU president shared a letter from Mr Hayward dated May 13, stating that the Government was “acting from the principle of reasonableness and fairness in this matter”.

In it, Mr Hayward wrote that decertification was “a workplace ballot administered by the Government in the interest of workers and is not a union ballot”.

He said any worker included under an agency shop agreement with the union had the right to take part in a decertification ballot, whether or not they were members of a trade union.

He added: “Although all members of the bargaining unit, whether they are union members or agency shop, shall participate in a decertification ballot, it is only persons who are members of the union or former members of the union who can trigger a certification ballot.

“The Government does not support the proposed legislative shifting of the percentages from a simple majority to 60 per cent for a decertification ballot, or the shift from 60 per cent to 65 per cent for automatic decertification, as this is not equitable and is inconsistent with the percentages required for the certification and automatic certification process which are a simple majority and 60 per cent, respectively.”

Mr Hayward also wrote that it was “current practice” under the law for “agency shop members to participate in the decertification ballot”.

But Mr Furbert suggested setting the bar considerably higher as the only way the BIU would compromise – proposing voting majorities as high as 80 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively.

The Bermuda Public Services Union had initially opposed the decertification clauses in the legislation.

But the BPSU ultimately agreed to the move, prompting criticism from the BIU, which Mr Furbert said was the union most at risk from decertification as the majority of its members work in the private sector.

The changes on decertification are covered under Section 57 of the Act.

Mr Furbert said the minister had failed to discuss the section’s final wording before the legislation went before the House of Assembly for approval.

He added: “The Government is wrong and they are standing firm in a mess that they created. This is really unbelievable.”

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Published June 12, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated June 13, 2021 at 5:26 pm)

BIU members start work to rule as decertification row worsens

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