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BIU signs new agreement with Hamilton docks operators

A new collective bargaining agreement has been struck between Stevedoring Services and the Bermuda Industrial Union, the firm’s parent company said yesterday.

The agreement came despite a “rocky relationship” over the past two years between Polaris Holding Company, which counts the Hamilton Docks operator among its subsidiaries, and the BIU port workers division.

East End Asphalt also signed a CBA with the union for the first time after its acquisition by Polaris in 2019.

Staff had looked for recognition of the BIU as a bargaining body and the management supported the move.

A spokesman for Polaris said: “Today represents the successful conclusion of negotiations and the establishment of terms and conditions of work for the paving crew at East End Asphalt.

“Today also represents the signing of a new CBA between Stevedoring Services Limited and the port workers division of the BIU.

“The port workers division is one of the oldest divisions within the BIU and its relationship with Stevedoring Services dates back many decades.”

The spokesman admitted: “It is no secret that Polaris and the Bermuda Industrial Union, specifically the port workers division, experienced a rocky relationship over the last two years.

“However, both parties recognise that if SSL is not successful, there is no relationship and more importantly, no employment.

“Therefore, notwithstanding those differences, the priority was to agree to terms that give the company the best chance at continued viability while ensuring the wellbeing of its staff.

“We look forward to continuing our relationship with the Bermuda Industrial Union as a significant corporate partner.”

About 25 dockers formed a picket line at the docks in September 2020 to protest against a move to contract out maintenance work.

Talks were held between SSL and the BIU to consider the company's proposals for cost-cutting, sparked by a downturn in business because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Warren Jones, the chief executive officer of Polaris, confirmed yesterday that the outsourcing of maintenance work was later agreed.

He said: “That’s still the case. Part of the negotiations agreed that as a go-forward.”

Workers also walked off the job in November 2020 after a member of staff was suspended.

Mr Jones said at the time that staff had “withdrawn their labour” after they held an “unauthorised meeting”.

The employee was suspended after the meeting and Mr Jones said staff had “withdrawn their labour in support”.

Mr Jones added: “We’ve had arbitrations in between and we still have some pending matters.”

But he added: “Notwithstanding where they were, we still have to have a relationship and we certainly still have to be committed to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, which says we need to sit down and renegotiate where we are at the end of three years.”

Mr Jones said: “Stevedoring Service’s mantra is ‘quietly powering Bermuda’.

“When you look at it, we’ve been through a two-year pandemic, worldwide shortage of things and every day Bermuda has had stuff on the shelves."

He added: “Through the pandemic we pulled together.

“Certainly we’ve had staff out sick, just like the rest of the community, but they never missed a beat.

“I will continue to say that Polaris has the best staff in the world.”

Polaris is responsible for more than 30,000 container moves a year through its dock subsidiary.

Polaris said East End Asphalt, established in 1968, was the island’s leading asphalt maker and paving company.

Chris Furbert, the president of the BIU, could not be contacted for comment.

Industrial peace on Hamilton docks (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 19, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated March 19, 2022 at 7:48 am)

BIU signs new agreement with Hamilton docks operators

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