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Buses back on the roads after legal action threat over ‘wildcat’ strike

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An out-of-service bus at Spanish Point (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A union leader yesterday claimed that Bermudians should be alarmed because industrial relations had hit rock bottom.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said: “Bermuda should be very concerned right now that we’ve hit an all-time low in industrial relations, because now we have not the Minister of Labour going to court to get some kind of injunction to send our workers back to work, but the Minister of Transport.

“If this is a truly labour issue then labour should be handling it."

Mr Furbert was speaking after buses returned to the roads in the wake of a wildcat strike.

Services resumed — but on a work-to-rule basis — after transport staff were warned that they could face legal action by the Government if they did not return to work.

Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, set a deadline of noon yesterday for a return to work or he would take the dispute to the courts.

Mr Furbert said he appreciated that essential services staff were required to give 21 days’ notice of industrial action.

He added: “Certainly the buses are not essentials.”

Mr Furbert said that he had six meetings with Department of Public Transportation officials over the past ten days “about this very issue”.

He claimed that there were “inconsistencies going on” at the Department of Public Transportation, including differences in the way disciplinary matters were handled.

Mr Furbert said that BIU bus maintenance staff downed tools yesterday in a dispute over conversations that they claim were recorded by a supervisor.

He said that two “no-confidence” votes on Roger Todd, the DPT director, were put “on the table” — one about 18 months ago that Mr Furbert asked his members to withdraw, and another this year.

Mr Furbert pointed out that he was in a meeting from about 10am until 2pm today and an e-mail was sent at about 10.45am.

He explained that it warned of Supreme Court legal action against the BIU, including himself as president, if members failed to return to work by noon.

Mr Furbert said that he advised staff earlier to give at least 24 hours’ notice before they downed tools.

But he insisted that the industrial action, which started without warning, did not suggest he had lost their support.

Mr Furbert said: “The president can advise his members — if the members decide that they want to take industrial action, they’re more than entitled to do that.

“They were fed up and they had a right to be fed up.”

He disagreed that the industrial action amounted to a “wildcat” strike.

Mr Furbert said: “People have a right to withdraw their labour if they are not satisfied.”

He claimed that the return to work today was not directly linked to the threat of legal action but was based on how managers had handled complaints about the alleged recording.

The DPT said that the buses returned to service at about 12.30pm.

A department spokeswoman said the work to rule “may cause some delays and additional cancellations” for commuters.

She added: “The department appreciates the public’s patience and co-operation and shares the frustration at the interruption of services.”

Mr Scott insisted earlier that the Government had not lost its grip on the situation and maintained that the strike was illegal.

He warned: “We will take whatever steps are open to us to bring this work stoppage to an end, which may include commencing proceedings in the Supreme Court for damages and an injunction preventing any further inducements of breach of contract by the BIU on these issues.

“The Government will uphold its no-work no-pay policy in this instance.”

Mr Scott denied that he had lost his grip on industrial relations.

He said: “I do not think so. Because of right now we still have tools in our tool kit in which to address this.”

Mr Scott added he had discussed the bus stand-off with Mr Furbert.

He added: “Myself, the ministry, and the BIU president are of like mind that this work stoppage should not have happened.

“But I respect and understand that he has a fiduciary responsibility to represent his members and I have such a responsibility to represent the interests of the commuting public.

“We understand as a ministry that industrial action is necessary at times, but should only be used as a last resort when all other avenues within the process have failed, and in this case that is not the case.”

Mr Scott said he was prepared to go to the Supreme Court “to ensure that wildcat strikes, or unnecessary industrial action, do not become a norm in the future.”

But he ruled out privatisation of public transport services.

Mr Scott said: “Privatisation does not ensure that no industrial action will take place.”

He added he was aware of allegations of conversations being secretly recorded.

Mr Scott added: “I understand that there is an investigation in process.”

Bus service cancellation notices and updates can be found at www.gov.bm/bus-alerts.

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Published December 18, 2021 at 8:08 am (Updated December 18, 2021 at 8:08 am)

Buses back on the roads after legal action threat over ‘wildcat’ strike

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