Premier: BIU shutdown threat is about internal PLP politics
A union’s threat of two-day strike this month was more to do with internal Progressive Labour Party politics than controversial changes to labour legislation, the Premier claimed yesterday.
David Burt said in a letter to Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, that a demand for him and Jason Hayward, the labour minister, to resign was a personal attack and based on a false premise.
The counter-attack was launched after a letter from Mr Furbert appealed to the Government to amend labour laws which allowed non-unionised members to vote on decertification – the process where staff in a bargaining unit can choose to no longer be represented by a union.
Mr Furbert said Mr Burt and Mr Hayward should resign if they failed to back down.
Mr Burt wrote in a reply that Mr Furbert’s letter was “based on a false premise which I have taken the time to explain to both the General Council and you on several occasions”.
Mr Burt added: “Secondly, the very personal nature of this attack confirms to me that this has very little to do with the legislation and far more to do with internal politics of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party.
“Using such a false premise in this way does a disservice to our respective organisations whose common history is a roll call of advancement for the workers of this country.”
Mr Burt said a succession of administrations had not amended legislation to exclude non-union members from voting in a cancellation of certification ballot for constitutional reasons.
He added: “I am satisfied that the reason for successive Governments not amending this provision is based on the Bermuda Constitution and the requirement not to deprive any worker, who has fees deducted from their wages, of a say in by whom, or how, they are represented.
“Let me be clear, even while respecting this constitutional provision, this Government has done more to strengthen the position of the BIU and those it represents with these new laws in a clear and codified demonstration of our common interests and bond.”
Mr Burt added his term of office had been “strengthened” by “often open and unvarnished criticism”.
He told Mr Furbert: “I am a young man whose experience in leadership has been forged in the fire of economic distress, a global pandemic and a tenure devoted to delivering on the transformational change promised to the people of Bermuda.
“Through all of this I have never been in any doubt that it is the people I serve and that I am privileged to be the current steward of the legacy of women and men inextricably linked to the Labour movement.”
Mr Burt added: “The right of working people to withdraw their labour as a means by which to demonstrate the seriousness of any issue is unassailable.
“I support it. In my view however, this is not one of those issues.”
Mr Burt said: “I am saddened that the BIU General Council under your leadership would use this manufactured issue as a pretext to launch a political attack on myself and the Minister of Labour – young men who have answered the call of leadership.”
Mr Furbert said earlier yesterday that the shut down of services planned for next Monday and Tuesday did not constitute a general strike.
Mr Furbert said: “The General Council motion that was made was a two-day shut down on August 30 and 31. After that everybody will probably go back to work.
“If you have a general strike why are they going back after two days?”
Mr Furbert said suggestions that he had called for an all-out stoppage that involved other unions was “very misleading.”
Mr Furbert, however, earlier asked other trade unions and the public to join in the two days of industrial action.
He claimed other unions supported the BIU on decertification, but that did not necessarily mean they would join a strike.
Mr Furbert said: “We hadn’t asked them to shut down. We are asking for support.
“They might decide to do something else in support of our protest next week Monday and Tuesday.
“If they can’t sit down with us, we understand but whatever assistance they can give us would be much appreciated.”
Dwight Jackson, the general secretary of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress, confirmed that the BIU’s position had the backing of other labour organisations.
But the white collar Bermuda Public Services Union in June accepted the changes to labour legislation – which sparked allegations from the BIU that it had been “left out in the cold”.
Mr Jackson added: “Contrary to what people may believe, unions aren’t looking to go on strike at every opportunity. Nobody wants this – it is the furthest thing from what we want.
“I just hope that fair minds prevail. Let’s just hope that we can solve this through dynamic dialogue.”
Mr Furbert added that Mr Hayward – a former leader of the BPSU – was responsible for problems between the BIU and the Government.
He claimed: “This issue belongs directly at the feet of the Minister of Labour.”
Mr Furbert claimed that Mr Hayward had promised to get back to the BIU and the BPSU before the Bill to change the law went to the House of Assembly, but had failed to do so.
He said: “The Minister of Labour owes the country and the unions an apology for what he did.”