PLP calls for cool heads in dispute over decertification votes
Controversial rules on union decertification will not be amended – despite increased pressure from trade unionists, ministers insisted yesterday.
Walter Roban, the Acting Premier, and Jason Hayward, the labour minister Jason Hayward – supported by several Cabinet ministers – held a press conference to confirm that Government would stick to its guns as Bermuda Industrial Union members staged a protest march through Hamilton.
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.”
He emphasised that the decertification rules, which came into force in June, were “non-negotiable” – although Government was still open to talks.
Mr Roban said the Government would not be forced into a position where people were forced to join a union.
He added the constitutional right of freedom of association was also a right of people not to associate if they did not want to.
Mr Roban said: “This enshrines international best practices and protects the rights of all workers. We are never going to be a government that disenfranchises workers.”
He admitted the deadlock had “strained” relations between the PLP and its traditional union support “not because we no longer share common goals, but because we disagree on a single provision in the law”.
Mr Roban said: “This is not nor should it be personal. Unfortunately, this policy disagreement has been personalised.
“Over the last few days there has been an attempt to somehow portray the Government’s position on this labour legislation as that of one individual. It is not.
“Safeguarding the rights of working men and women is our common cause and in this we have worked for decades with our partners in Labour, Bermuda’s unions.
“It is unfortunate. We still consider ourselves part of the labour movement.”
Mr Hayward added: “The Government’s position has been made clear – any worker who has regular contributions deducted from their pay should have the right to vote in a ballot whether they are a union member or non-member.
“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: “However, the approach to industrial relations needs to shift – a concerted effort is required to change the current culture of operating.
“It will not be easy, however, a shift in paradigm is critical for us to get the country back on a sustainable recovery path.”
Mr Hayward added: “As it pertains to my position as Minister of Labour, I have no intention to resign. There is plenty of work to be done and I am committed to working on behalf of the people of Bermuda.”
Mr Hayward said the work stoppage was being monitored and no decision had been taken on whether to seek a court order to end it on the ground it was unlawful.
Stevedoring Services, which runs the docks, has already obtained a court order to prevent its workers from downing tools.
Mr Hayward said: “We will continue to assess Government service levels. No decision has been taken on whether to seek an order from the court.”
Mr Hayward, a former leader of the Bermuda Public Services Union, said he had no problem with being involved in a labour dispute on the other side of the fence.
He added: “I feel very confident as a principled person that if I stand on principle I have no internal conflict.”
Mr Roban said that David Burt, the Premier, was being updated on the dispute.
He added: “The Premier will be returning shortly. Everyone who needs to be informed has been kept informed.”
Dawn Simmons, the chairwoman of the Progressive Labour Party said the two-day stoppage by the BIU was “unfortunate” and “an overreach”.
She added: “This action will hurt our economy and our people, who have struggled to survive over the past 18 months.
“Our workers will lose wages. Our businesses and key services will be disrupted. Our economy will be significantly impacted.”
Ms Simmons said: “The Government advanced this legislation to empower workers.
“The motion and ultimatum by the BIU's general council requesting that the Premier and party leader David Burt and Minister of Labour Jason Hayward step down was extreme and unreasonable.
“It is our hope that the BIU membership will encourage dialogue between its leadership and the Government to bring this matter to resolution.”