Live updates: BIU and Ministers face off on Church Street
The Government has reiterated it will not amend labour legislation which sparked a work stoppage and march this morning by the Bermuda Industrial Union.
Walter Roban, the Acting Premier, flanked by members of the Cabinet, said at a press conference this morning: “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.”
Jason Hayward, the labour minister, added: “Any notion that the Progressive Labour Party is no longer supporting labour or is out to destroy the union is an outright fallacy.
“There has been no attempt by the Government to strip any rights of workers or destroy organised labour and the rhetoric should be discontinued.“
Mr Hayward said the work stoppage was being monitored and no decision had been taken on whether to seek a court order on the basis it was unlawful.
Yesterday, Stevedoring Services Ltd obtained a court order preventing dock-workers from stopping work.
Asked as a former union president how it felt to be on the other side of a labour dispute, Mr Hayward told The Royal Gazette: “I feel very confident as a principled person that if I stand on principle I have no internal conflict.”
Mr Roban also acknowledged that relations between Government and the BIU were “strained”.
He added: “Not because we no longer share common goals but because we disagree on a single provision in the law. That is not nor should it be personal.
“Unfortunately, this policy disagreement has been personalised.”
“It is unfortunate. We still consider ourselves part of the labour movement.”
Following the press conference, Mr Roban and Mr Hayward left the AP Place Media Room in Global House and met with around 200 BIU members waiting outside.
The two ministers had a forceful but peaceful exchange with Chris Furbert, the BIU president.
Mr Furbert explained to Mr Roban that the disruption was not a labour dispute but a protest against legislation.
“If a law is unfair we have a right to challenge it,” he said.
Mr Roban replied that Government was always open to dialogue.
During the brief exchange, 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.
Earlier they chanted “Jason Hayward must go”.
The march had started from BIU headquarters at 10.30am. Before starting out, Mr Furbert addressed his members.
He confirmed that Stevedoring Services had obtained a Supreme Court order yesterday saying dock-workers could not attend today’s protest and had to work. Mr Furbert said the BIU planned to appeal that order.
He also insisted that the remaining divisions would stay off work in support of the protest.
The dispute concerns labour laws passed last December which govern which employees in a bargaining unit can determine if they no longer wish to be represented by a union. As the law stands, all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement can vote to decertify the union.
The BIU maintains that only unionised members whose full dues are paid to the union should be able to vote. As it stands, non-unionised employees covered by the agreement pay the equivalent of half their dues to the union and half to a charity of their choice.
Mr Roban has stated that the work stoppage is unlawful as there is no labour dispute.
He said the work stoppage would hurt people already reeling from the recession brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Furbert told the crowd it had been “a dark day” in Bermuda’s history when the law was passed last December.
“Well it’s about to get darker,” he added.
He questioned the Progressive Labour Party government’s claim that the work stoppage was unlawful because there was no labour dispute.
He pointed out that, when the BIU joined protests over immigration reforms under the One Bermuda Alliance, plans for the Airport, and Black Lives Matter, 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.
““This is an organised attack on the labour movement. Government has got to be held accountable. What they are doing is morally wrong.”
He said the protest will continue today and tomorrow.
A Government statement said several Government services had been affected:
· No buses
· No ferries
· Parks maintenance – no landscaping of parks and beaches; no trash collection from parks
· Quarry equipment maintenance workshops – only impact on servicing of Government equipment and vehicles
· Highways staff
· Public Lands & Buildings Section – interior school painting and cleaning
· Minimal impact on Post Office
He also said that David Burt, the Premier, would be returning to the island “shortly”.