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BIU general strike threat over union decertification

A BIU march (File photograph)

A union leader has threatened the Premier with a major strike unless changes to decertification votes in workplaces are ditched.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, wrote to David Burt that a “two day shutdown” had been approved for August 30 and 31 by the union’s general council unless the clause was removed from legislation.

But last night the Government stuck to its guns and refused to back down.

The letter, seen by The Royal Gazette and dated Thursday, added: “The motion also include that failure of the Government to make the necessary amendments to the 2021 Act then the Premier the Hon. David Burt and the Minister of Labour, the Hon. Jason Hayward, need to step down.”

Mr Furbert warned Mr Burt that the stoppage could escalate to a general strike.

He wrote: “The BIU will be requesting our sister unions and the general public to join us in this two day protest.”

But Walter Roban, the acting Premier, said: “The call for a general strike is most unfortunate and unnecessary.

“The Government stands firm in its position that the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 2021 is fair and just.

“The Government has no intention of amending the legislation.”

The BIU threat came after a months-long row over who would be eligible to vote in workplace union decertification ballots.

Mr Furbert wrote that Parliament’s approval of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 2021 was “truly a dark and sad day” for industrial relations.

He added: “It is made all the more odious by the fact that a PLP Government, in passing this Act against the appeals of organised labour in Bermuda, reflects that it is not prepared to listen to the voice of labour and act to correct past injustices.

“Injustices that have been codified into law, that are designed to undermine and weaken the Union movement that has always championed the rights of all workers.

“The forefathers of the PLP must be turning over in their graves at this great injustice that became law on June 1.”

Mr Furbert’s letter said the union had “exhausted all other avenues to resolve this matter” and the BIU General Council would push forward with a strike if the Government did not climb down.

The BIU earlier said Section 57 of the legislation allowed non-unionised workers to vote on whether a workplace should continue to have union representation.

Mr Furbert maintained the amendment hurt unions, but the Government insisted the legislation would not affect trades unions.

Mr Hayward said only union members or former supporters of unions could trigger a ballot under the Act and that it was typical for everyone in a bargaining unit to participate in a decertification ballot, irrespective of trade union membership.

Mr Hayward said just after the Act came into force: “The changes to the Act in this regard will not negatively affect the current position of unions or their current composition of bargaining units as the practice under the Trade Union Act 1965 was for agency shop members to already participate in the decertification ballot.

“What we have to do is look at the position we’re in regarding the rights of workers.

“We have a very firm position that we don’t want to take away any rights that workers enjoy.”

The Bermuda Public Service Union at first opposed the decertification clause in the legislation, but later reached an agreement with the Government.

Mr Furbert said yesterday the dispute over the legislation was the “elephant in the room” in discussions with Government.

He added: “We still have that issue in front of us. Ever since we have had that disagreement, it feels like the relationship has become strained.

“In June we had a three-hour meeting with the Premier and the Minister of Labour about Section 57, and their position on Section 57 had not changed.

“Our main concern with Section 57 is a non-union member who is only contributing 50 per cent having the right to vote on decertification.

“We have conceded that if someone is going to give the union 100 per cent contribution, they should have the right to vote in a ballot for decertification – we have changed our position on that – but we cannot justify how someone giving 50 per cent can get a full vote.

“To us, that just doesn’t seem right.”

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Published August 21, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated August 21, 2021 at 7:45 am)

BIU general strike threat over union decertification

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