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Burt calls for cool heads in BIU row

David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

David Burt, the Premier, acknowledged yesterday that he faces an “intensely personal” challenge from the Bermuda Industrial Union over voting rights in trade union legislation.

In a lengthy interview with The Royal Gazette yesterday, the Premier repeatedly emphasised “de-escalation” of the standoff as he confronts an unprecedented rift between his party and its union base.

Mr Burt returned this week from a ten-day break with family, during which the BIU president, Chris Furbert, demanded his resignation along with that of Jason Hayward, the labour minister, and threatened to pull its backing from the Progressive Labour Party.

The Premier acknowledged the impasse was cause for alarm, even as he said it was “the hope that cooler heads will prevail”.

When The Royal Gazette asked if the threat of a deepening labour dispute had unnerved the community, Mr Burt said: “I’m nervous about it escalating as well. Our attempts are to de-escalate it and I’m not going to get into what measures are being taken.

“But the fact is we are engaged in a dispute over a law that has not changed.”

The Premier affirmed his “sympathy” for the BIU’s membership even as he questioned its leaders’ logic in attacking the Government’s commitment on the voting procedure for union decertification in the workplace – which he said was only an issue for about 20 people on the island.

Asked if it was a move to oust him as leader, Mr Burt said: “I can’t speak to that.

“All I can say is that from the perspective of where I am, the letter which came from the leadership of the BIU called for my resignation and Minister Hayward’s resignation over this issue.

“The law has not changed since it was brought into force in 2000. That’s why I’m saying it doesn’t make sense.”

Mr Furbert has stated that several PLP back bench MPs back the union’s stance.

But Mr Burt said he was confident of his party’s backing.

“In a broad, general sense I absolutely believe that I have the support, the majority of the PLP,” he said.

“That is something that will be confirmed next year when we go to elections in the PLP.”

He said party leadership was not on the table for the PLP’s upcoming delegates’ conference.

But he added: “If there are challenges, then we’ll face them.

“We preside over a democratic organisation, and I’m happy to support democracy in all forms and fashions.”

He said he accepted party differences over the BIU confrontation.

“I’m not going to expect all 30 members of my caucus to agree on all issues. That’s a fact.

“There are certain persons who believe certain changes should be made. The Government’s position, represented by the vast majority, says that we should maintain the position we’ve had. I’m not going to get into the internal machinations.”

Mr Burt also downplayed the gravity of the decertification issue, implemented this June, which Mr Furbert has cast as a deal-breaker unless the Government backtracks.

The union president last month singled out the ability of non-union members who contributed only 50 per cent of union dues getting the right to vote on decertification.

Mr Burt claimed yesterday: “There is about 20 people in the country that do not give full amounts to the union. We’re literally talking about a countrywide shutdown over 20-something people.”

He said the country had been left in capable hands with Walter Roban as Acting Premier during his absence.

Asked about his comment to Mr Furbert last month that the standoff had more to do with the PLP’s internal politics than the legislation, Mr Burt said: “When I say it’s personal, when the BIU leadership is saying they’re going to withdraw support from the PLP over this particular issue, when the provision has been the same since 2000, and they did not withdraw support in 2003, in the 2007 election, 2012, 2017 or 2020 when the provision was the exact same, is why I say this makes no logical sense.

“It is unfortunate we’re here. I do not, in any way, shape or form, like the position we’re in. The Government wants the situation de-escalated.”

He emphasised that the provisions on decertification had gone unchanged since coming into force in May 2000 under the first PLP administration.

He said the Government “cannot do things that run contrary to the Constitution” in changing tack over a “disagreement on one provision of a 130-clause Act”.

“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.”

He added: “I don’t want this to become a spat between the membership of the BIU and membership of the PLP which are, by and large, one and the same. This is a small issue.”

Mr Burt said an agreement on basic rules would make “decertifications as rare in the future as they have been in the past”.

When asked about the failure to come to an agreement with the BIU, he said: “It is my hope that is doesn’t escalate.”

Mr Burt maintained the two sides should revisit “the agreement made in December” over decertification.

“That proposal is there. It is my hope we will be able to get through that process and move forward.”

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Published September 03, 2021 at 8:27 pm (Updated September 03, 2021 at 8:27 pm)

Burt calls for cool heads in BIU row

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