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Workers defiant on first day of industrial action

Workers take to the streets yesterday in a protest over voting rights for union decertification (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Workers who took part in industrial action yesterday backed more demonstrations against a controversial piece of labour legislation.

Stephen Page, who works for the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, said: “I’m not a part of the union – but I’m a part of the working-class community.

“If anybody tries to take away unions’ rights then workers wouldn’t have any recourse when things happen.”

He added: “We can’t allow the Premier or whomever is backing him to take down the union.”

Mr Page was speaking at a march through Hamilton in protest against a law that allows all employees in a workplace bargaining unit to take part in ballots for union certification and decertification.

The demonstration, led by Bermuda Industrial Union president, Chris Furbert, saw about 200 people take part.

Mr Furbert later urged the public to join another protest scheduled to start at 8am this morning at the BIU headquarters on Union Street, Hamilton.

Mr Page said that he found out about the protest on Sunday after a co-worker forwarded a WhatsApp message.

He added that he hoped more people would come out to support today’s demonstration.

Another KEMH worker, who asked not to be named, said the protest was important.

The 51-year-old added: “I feel like a lot of our rights have been taken away, so we need to stand up and show solidarity for what we think is Bermuda and what we believe in.

“We need to show that we support Bermuda and we support a better future for everybody where there’s free choice for everybody.”

Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement can vote to decertify a union at present.

But the BIU has insisted that only fully paid-up union members should be able to vote.

Non-unionised employees covered by the agreement pay half their dues to the union and the other half to a charity of their choice and can vote on decertification, a right the union wants to end.

The march started around 10.30am at the BIU and moved around Hamilton before stopping in front of the Government’s Global House on Church Street.

Jason Hayward, the labour minister, left the building around 11.30am – about half an hour after the crowd arrived – and told the crowd that the Government would stand firm on its legislation.

He added: “Any notion that this Government is out to destroy the unions is a fallacy. It’s an outright lie.

“There has been no change in the legislation which changed the composition of people who can vote in a ballot.”

But the appearance of Mr Hayward, a former leader of the Bermuda Public Services Union, sparked anger among the crowd and he was shouted down.

A woman truck driver for wholesale distributors BGA said that Mr Hayward “bailed out” after he struggled to make his point clear over screaming protesters.

She also appealed to Mr Hayward to meet protesters this morning and "listen to his people”.

The woman, who asked not to be named, he should face the workers and “say what he’s got to say. That’s the only way”.

She added: “Tell the truth. If there was any wrongdoing he needs to say ‘I was wrong’ – admit it like a man – and give everybody what they want.”

An Otis Elevator Company worker, who also asked not to be named, said the legislation was “just not right”.

The 34-year-old said: “How are you going to let people who don’t pay for the union have a vote?

“The union’s always had a problem with it – it’s just that now they’re trying to solve it and the Government’s sitting on it.”

The man appealed to the Government to take the legislation “back to the table somehow” and strike a deal with the BIU or face further disruption.

He warned: “They can’t just stand still on it.”

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Published August 31, 2021 at 7:56 am (Updated August 31, 2021 at 7:43 am)

Workers defiant on first day of industrial action

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