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BIU to contact Premier for meeting over dispute

Olive branch: Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Talks between Government and the Bermuda Industrial Union over controversial decertification laws could be held soon after both sides offered up an olive branch.

Yesterday Chris Furbert, the president of the BIU, said he would send a letter to David Burt, the Premier, asking for a meeting.

Mr Burt made a similar gesture on Thursday when he told The Royal Gazette: “We urge the BIU to come back to the table, to engage in the agreement which was made in December to work through the regulations, the guidelines for decertification.”

Asked for a response to that invitation, Mr Furbert yesterday said: “I’m not accepting an invitation to come to the table through the media.

“If the Premier wants to invite the BIU to the table, the right thing to do – if he wants to send an e-mail, if he wants to send a letter, that’s fine, he can do that.

“Today – and I’m hoping to get it to the Premier some time this afternoon – we have a letter prepared for the Premier, to give him a letter, and that letter has in it that the BIU in the interests of the country, in the interests of the people of Bermuda, will ask for the parties to come back to the table to resolve this issue.”

The dispute arose after Government introduced wide-sweeping changes to labour regulations – including allowing non-unionised members of a bargaining unit to take part in a decertification ballot.

Despite signs of progress in the long-running dispute, Mr Furbert insisted that union members will still hold a weekly day of protest until a resolution is found.

He added that, if a resolution is not reached, the union could take the matter to court.

He said: “I’m not saying we’re going to rule that out – we’ll look at all our options going forward.

“As of September 13 we’re going to have weekly protests. We’re also looking at circulating a petition to get as many Bermudians as we can to sign that petition and in the end we’ll hand it to the Governor.

“The BIU doesn’t want to go down this road. All we want the Government to do is recognise that 1998 has come and gone, 2000 has come and gone. The Government passed the bill on December 11, 2020, that’s come and gone. The Government is going to have to move from it’s position, the BIU is going to have to move from its position, in order for us to have common ground.

“We’ve had dialogue, upon dialogue, upon dialogue. The minister has made it crystal clear many times – the Government will make no amendment to this Act. The Royal Gazette editor told the Government ‘don’t back down’ and the Government’s not backing down.

“Do you want me to believe that it’s all of a sudden the union’s fault? If this was a United Bermuda Party government or an OBA government we would have been in the streets months ago.

“The chances of a meeting taking place, from our perspective, if the Government called us within the next hour – could you come down, have a meeting with us – if I could arrange a team to go for a meeting, I would.

“The BIU has always been right there. We’re prepared to meet with Government at any point in time to discuss this issue.”

Union members held marches and work disruptions on Monday and Tuesday protesting the laws, which came into effect in June.

Mr Furbert said that one of the hurdles to finding a resolution was a failure by Jason Hayward, the Labour Minister to acknowledge that he failed to contact both the BIU and Bermuda Public Service Union to address their concerns before tabling the legislation.

Mr Hayward addressed that allegation earlier this week, saying he spoke to Government MP and former BIU president Derrick Burgess, who was acting as a go-between between the two sides.

Yesterday Mr Furbert rejected that explanation.

He said: ““You’re now telling me he’s using a third party to communicate with myself? If that’s the kind of relationship the minister wants ... even though we asked for the Premier to resign, we’ve asked for the minister to resign, we really don’t want them to resign but maybe he should resign.”

Mr Furbert also admitted that Government had made one significant amendment to the bill when it was tabled in the House of Assembly in December.

According to Mr Furbert, a draft version of the bill stated that non-union members of a bargaining unit could trigger a decertification vote. When the BIU and BPSU held a press conference criticising that clause Mr Hayward immediately backtracked.

Asked if he felt this showed Government had been willing to compromise in negotiations, Mr Furbert replied. “They didn’t meet us halfway – we actually made them meet us halfway. They had no intention of coming back to us.”

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Published September 04, 2021 at 7:44 am (Updated September 04, 2021 at 7:44 am)

BIU to contact Premier for meeting over dispute

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