BIU calls for day of protest
The rift between workers and Government widened yesterday as both sides refused to budge on voting rights for union decertification.
The Bermuda Industrial Union warned it had the power to bring the Government down if it failed to give in to its demands as workers marched in Hamilton in a protest over the decertification clause in labour legislation
Chris Furbert, the BIU president, said the union could withdraw support for the Progressive Labour Party over the row.
He said: “I want the Government to think about this very carefully.
“The PLP government cannot afford to have 20 per cent of labour not support them in a General Election. Not 100 per cent of labour – just 20 per cent of labour. ”
Mr Furbert asked: “If the chairman and the Premier and the labour minister and the Cabinet ministers are not going to think about that, why should we think about them remaining where they are?”
Mr Furbert claimed he was aware of “four or five” Government backbenchers who supported the union’s stance.
He said: “Let me encourage the party chairman that you need to have a conversation with your MPs who are doing things that the people of Bermuda didn’t elect you to do.
“And if they can’t fix it internally, then people are going to have to fix it for them.
“That’s not a threat, that’s basically what people should do.”
Mr Furbert said earlier: “The Government is saying ‘we’re the government’, and that would appear how they’ve taken this – ‘we’ll do what we want to do and we’re not going to listen to you’.
“That’s going to get them in a lot of trouble.”
He warned the PLP: “Just like we voted the OBA out of power, if the PLP can’t obey the people who put you there, people should vote you out of power – or maybe exchange some MPs that you’ve got and put in some MPs who are going to listen to the people.
“You’re not there representing yourself.”
Mr Furbert confirmed that a second day of protest would go ahead today – and encouraged essential services staff, who must give 21 days notice before industrial action, to attend.
The BIU warned last week that two days of industrial action would be held.
It also delivered a 21-day industrial action notice on behalf of essential service workers.
But the Government challenged the planned disruption last Friday and claimed that, because there was no labour dispute, any industrial action would be illegal.
Mr Furbert told around 200 union members who had gathered outside the BIU headquarters in Hamilton that they had a constitutional right to protest.
He said later: “It’s not a labour dispute. If this is in regard to the Constitution we don’t have to give notice. The 21-day notice has been taken off the table.”
Mr Furbert added that, when the BIU joined protests over immigration changes under the One Bermuda Alliance, the redevelopment of the airport, and the Black Lives Matter campaign, it was backed by the PLP.
He said: “When the PLP was in Opposition they were protesting with us. Now they’re saying that what we’re doing is unlawful.
“That sounds like a dictatorship to me. You can’t just cherry pick what people can protest about.”
Mr Furbert told the crowd it had been “a dark day” in Bermuda’s history when the controversial labour legislation was passed last December.
He warned: “Well, it’s about to get darker.”
The march halted outside Global House on Church Street, where Walter Roban, the acting Premier, and Jason Hayward, the labour minister, held a press conference where they insisted that the Government would not be moved.
Mr Roban said: “We will not commit to any course that takes away the rights of Bermuda’s workers and so I must say again the law will not be amended and we are firm in that position.”
The two ministers had a heated but peaceful exchange with Mr Furbert and marchers outside the building, watched by scores of union supporters.
Mr Furbert told Mr Roban that the disruption was not a labour dispute but a protest against legislation.
He added: “If a law is unfair we have a right to challenge it.”
Mr Roban told the union leader that Government was always open to dialogue.
Marchers shouted “traitors”, “take labour out of your name” and “we put you there and now you’re trying to bust us” at the PLP ministers.
They earlier chanted: “Jason Hayward must go.”
Mr Furbert insisted that the stoppage was legal because it was a protest – which meant that essential service workers could take part.
He said: “The Deputy Premier said that it’s not a labour dispute. We agree with them – it’s not a labour dispute.
“We’re now going to turn it into a protest against the government – a constitutional protest against the government and the law.
“We are going to invite our members and members of the public who would like to protest to come and protest with us over this issue under the Constitution. That’s your constitutional right.
“I would dare any government to try to take away that right.”
Mr Furbert said that essential services workers could make their own decisions about whether to take part.
He added: “I would say that, for essential service workers, whatever decision they make should be in consultation with their management team.
“Using the hospital as an example, this is not about putting people’s lives at risk and we understand the country’s still in the middle of a pandemic.
“So if the hospital is supposed to have 25 workers working for the pandemic, we’re asking for our members to at least agree to that.”
But Mr Furbert said: “All other areas that are essential but not really essential – like a piece of mail, like a few other things – maybe they could wait for a day or two, it’s not going to hurt anything.
“So in that regard those are the kind of things we’re talking about. We think that’s fair and reasonable. If trash collectors want to come tomorrow, they can come to it.”