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Government and union make peace after stormy 2021

Industrial Action by the BIU last August (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A public clash over trade union decertification that sparked threats of industrial action last year “should have been handled better”, the Government and the Bermuda Industrial Unions have agreed.

David Burt, the Premier, said yesterday the two sides had settled on “a plan to move forward” that will include quarterly meetings between the BIU and Jason Hayward, the labour and economy minister, to discuss labour issues.

The dispute over who would be eligible to vote in workplace union decertification ballots nearly boiled over last summer with open confrontation between the Progressive Labour Party and the blue-collar union, traditionally a support base for the PLP.

A government spokeswoman called it “differences of opinion” on section 57 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidated) Act 2021, passed by the Government over fierce union objections.

The legislative reform allowed non-unionised members of a union bargaining unit to take part in a vote to no longer be represented by the union – a process called decertification.

Non-unionised employees in a bargaining unit pay half the cost of dues to the union as a service fee and half to the charity of their choice.

The BIU argued that only union members who pay their full dues to the union should be allowed to cast a ballot on decertification.

But the Government refused to change the wording of the Act, insisting the same legislation had been in place for decades.

Mr Burt, Mr Hayward and BIU president Chris Furbert met on May 13 with the union’s general secretary Helena “Molly” Burgess and Eugene Ball, the union’s first vice-president.

The spokeswoman said that the meeting closed with both sides apologising for the standoff.

She said they committed to work together in support of workers and the island’s Economic Recovery Plan.

Mr Burt said the Government was proud of its record in support of Bermudian unions and workers’ rights.

The Premier said none of it would have been possible without collaboration with trade unions, including the BIU.

He said those links were the reason why the meeting had been held to “discuss and address any hindrances to what has always been a respectful and productive relationship between this labour Government and the BIU”.

“We have agreed on a plan to move forward, and have committed to continuing to work together to improve conditions for workers in this country, and to advance Bermuda’s Economic Recovery Plan to ensure a brighter future.”

Mr Burt thanked union officials for their time and said he looked forward to further collaboration.

Mr Hayward said the labour movement was at its best when unions and labour governments worked together.

He added: “Our collective desire to create a better Bermuda for all should and must always transcend any conflicts we may encounter.”

Mr Furbert said the two sides had discussed moving forward and had acknowledged “collectively that the issues around the legislation could have been handled better by all”.

The BIU head thanked the Premier and Mr Hayward for their time along with the minister’s commitment to hold quarterly meetings “so that we can continue to advance workers’ rights and ensure they have the quality of life they deserve”.

The meeting followed a letter in January from the union to PLP officials requesting a meeting to discuss their relationship.

A successful discussion over “differing opinions” came in February, according to a joint statement issued last night.

Dawn Simmons, chairwoman of the party, said the talks had to helped both to “work past a difficult period in what has been for many years an amicable relationship between our two labour organisations”.

She added: “Though we do not expect to agree on every point, I am proud that when there are disagreements they do not deter our focus and our commitment to the workers of this country.”

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Published May 25, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated May 25, 2022 at 7:55 am)

Government and union make peace after stormy 2021

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