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BIU to go ahead with ‘unlawful’ work stoppage on Monday

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Not backing down: Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Government and the Bermuda Industrial Union were yesterday on a collision course after the union confirmed it will go ahead with a work stoppage that Government says is unlawful.

Chris Furbert, the president of the BIU, confirmed yesterday that the two days of disruptions will start on Monday.

But yesterday afternoon, a Government spokesman said: “As there is no labour dispute any action taken, including any proposed work stoppage or strike, is unlawful. Section 87 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act makes the position clear.”

The spokesman did not say if Government intended to take any action to block the stoppage.

Walter Roban, the Acting Premier, said: “It is extremely disappointing for the BIU to threaten the people of Bermuda with any form of work stoppage, particularly in the absence of a genuine labour dispute.

“Many employers are under pressure, trying to remain open while others have had to shut their business, some temporarily and others permanently.”

He added: “Many workers have not worked for months and are barely maintaining themselves and their families as they struggle to cope with the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic and its many ramifications.”

At a press conference yesterday Mr Furbert said members employed in non-essential services will down tools for 48 hours.

Those employed in essential services, such as marine and ports and trash collection, will remain on the job – but will go on strike in 21 days unless a resolution can be found, he said.

Mr Furbert said that following a special general council meeting on Wednesday he wrote to Mr Roban, calling for a meeting to try and break the impasse.

According to Mr Furbert, Mr Roban replied in an e-mail: “I am not in a position to make any undertaking on behalf of the Government at this time. We do welcome the opportunity for dialogue to improve the situation that has developed in recent days. The Government’s position on the 2021 act remains the same.”

A second special general council meeting took place this morning, when it was decided that the work stoppage, first announced last weekend, will go ahead.

Mr Furbert said: “So the BIU executive board reached out to the Government to do what we can to avoid a two-day shutdown.

“We are asking for all our divisions that are non-essential services to report here to Union Square at 8am on Monday. We have also asked for those non-essential service divisions to come back on Tuesday morning.

“In addition to that, all the other areas that are essential services, as of Monday August 30, there will be a 21-day notice of industrial action issued by for all those other areas that are essential services that are required by law to give 21 days’ notice of industrial action.”

Essential services to continue running

Some services will run during next week’s two-day work stoppage.

Essential service employees can only go strike three weeks after giving notice that they intended to take industrial action. Mr Furbert said the union would serve the Government with a notice of intent on Monday.

Workers classed as essential services include healthcare staff, some emergency services personnel, such as firefighters and prison officers, trash collectors, grocery and pharmacy workers, utilities workers and Marine & Ports personnel.

Bus services could be hit by Monday’s action, as public transport is not classified as an essential service.

He added: “The general council is further suggesting that any of our sister unions that are willing to support us in this two-day shutdown, whatever they can do to assist will be appreciated.

“We are also inviting the general public who want to support the two-day protest to come and support us.”

Mr Furbert also criticised the Progressive Labour Party government for refusing to amend the decertification legislation. The BIU has called for David Burt, the Premier, and Jason Hayward, the labour minister, to resign if they refuse to change it.

He said: “Certainly this is not a place that the BIU thought we would be in with a labour government in 2021. But one thing I think this proves to the people of Bermuda is the BIU stands by what it says.

“The BIU has stood by what it’s said over the years. It doesn’t matter if it’s a PLP government, UBP government or OBA government – when the need for us to protest to protect the rights of our members and by and large members of the public that feel impacted by what the Government is doing, we will do exactly that.”

The BIU announced the plan to disrupt services in a statement last weekend, calling for support from other organisations.

But on Thursday the Bermuda Public Service Union confirmed that it would not be taking part in any action. Other groups, including the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce and the Bermuda Employers Council, also questioned the threat.

When questioned why the BIU was still intent on action when the majority of groups on the Labour Advisory Council supported changes in the law, Mr Furbert was adamant that the majority of workers backed the BIU.

He said: “Let’s just be clear. The Labour Advisory Council is made up of the Government – the minister chairs it – employers, and unions. There are maybe ten employers at the LAC and there are union representatives there. The BIU has three reps, other unions have their reps.

“So when you say a majority, the BPSU as far as I know is not a majority of all the unions that are now saying they’re not in support.

“The last time we were here at a joint press conference maybe a month or so ago, the general secretary of the TUC made it crystal clear to the media that the majority of the Trade Union Congress was supporting the union on this issue. That’s the majority.”

Mr Furbert said that the union’s offer of further talks with Government remained open.

Commenting on the development, Dwight Jackson, the general secretary of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress, confirmed that the BIU had the backing of other unions – with the exception of the BPSU.

“The BIU has the support of all other sister unions,” Mr Jackson said.

“Every other union agrees with the BIU on this principle and at the very least getting the minister of labour to come to the table for dialogue.

“It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but that seems a very simple ask that the minister seems unwilling to do.”

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Published August 28, 2021 at 2:24 pm (Updated August 28, 2021 at 2:24 pm)

BIU to go ahead with ‘unlawful’ work stoppage on Monday

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