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Business leaders blast BIU strike over decertification votes

Strong words: Nathan Kowalski, president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce (File photograph)

Business leaders yesterday condemned the threat of a strike over changes to votes on union decertification in workplaces.

Nathan Kowalski, the president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said it was “not the time to introduce increased friction in the local economy”.

He added: “Many Bermudian businesses continue to struggle in the current environment that is suffering from a downshift in overall economic activity.

“The added uncertainty and potential dislocation that strikes will almost certainly create over a matter that does not involve health and safety issues or the reduction of workers’ rights does not seem reasonable at this juncture.

“Bermuda’s economy does not need any additional uncertainty or animosity at a time when we should be focused on improving the state of the economy and ensuring Bermudians are back to work.“

Mr Kowalski was speaking after Chris Furbert, the BIU president, announced the industrial action, scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday, unless the decertification change was axed by the Government.

But the Government has vowed to stand firm and that the legislation protected workers’ rights.

The strike threat was an escalation of a row with the Government over employment legislation passed in June.

Mr Furbert confirmed that his members will be downing tools for two days next Monday and he appealed to other unions and the public to support the stoppage – although he later insisted he had not called for a general strike.

Mr Kowalski also questioned the BIU’s criticism of the new law on decertification.

He said: “Rules and regulations that create undue risk and uncertainty for employers frustrate hiring and the ability to achieve full employment.

“The recent threat by the BIU to hold a two-day strike over decertification rules does not revolve around the restriction or removal of workers’ rights or their health and safety.

“More expansive voting privileges to those affected by a collective bargaining agreement only enhance the democratic rights of those workers.”

Mr Kowalski added: “The chamber is surprised that, in this instance, the BIU seeks a reduction of those rights solely in their members’ favour.

“We support the Government’s position and would encourage the BIU to continue discussions with Government that are not disruptive to the economy.”

There appeared to be little support for the BIU’s call for island-wide action since it was announced at the weekend.

The Bermuda Trade Union Congress gave a lukewarm response.

Dwight Jackson, the BTUC general secretary, said on Monday that there was “much support” for the BIU’s position, but it was hoped that negotiations could resolve the dispute before strike action was taken.

The Opposition One Bermuda Alliance also called for talks to continue until a settlement was reached.

The Bermuda Hotel Association said a strike would send the wrong message to the tourism industry.

The Bermuda Employers Council declined to comment.

The Bermuda Public Service Union has yet to comment on the dispute.

The BPSU – the island’s second largest union – at first lined up alongside the BIU to condemn the legislation when it was passed in the House of Assembly last December.

But when the law came into effect it announced that it supported the Government.

The about-turn sparked allegations from the BIU that it had been “left out in the cold”.

The strike threat has already hit at least one major institution.

Students at Bermuda College will have to take classes on a remote basis next week when the campus opens for the start of the new term.

A spokeswoman for the college said that potential disruption from industrial action was one of the reasons for a delay to the return to in-person classes.

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Published August 26, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated August 26, 2021 at 6:20 pm)

Business leaders blast BIU strike over decertification votes

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