Jason Hayward orders dock-workers back on the job
Hamilton dock-workers were last night ordered back to work by Labour Minister Jason Hayward after mediation efforts to end the seven-day slowdown on the docks failed.
A Government statement said mediation efforts over “the last few days” had failed to break the impasse between Stevedoring Services and the Bermuda Industrial Union and Mr Hayward had therefore referred the dispute to the Labour Disputes Tribunal.
The statement said that once a dispute is referred to the Tribunal, any industrial action is illegal, meaning dock-workers must return to work.
Mr Hayward said: “The Government will continue to work with the parties involved to resolve this dispute. I am hopeful that the parties will find a resolution to this issue as soon as possible as it is in the public interest that the services at the dock can fully resume.
A total of 32 dock-workers downed tools last Thursday after a BIU official at the facility was suspended.
The BIU said the suspension came after workers held a meeting that managers said was unauthorised.
Only containers carrying essential cargo have been unloaded since the dispute started.
The Bermuda Islander arrived just as the dispute got under way.
Although some of her cargo was brought to shore, she still has 90 containers of non-essential goods on board and is still berthed in Hamilton Harbour.
The Oleander arrived on Monday but was only partially unloaded yesterday.
About 45 refrigerated containers were taken off, along with some containers of essential items such as medical supplies and perishable products, including consignments of Christmas trees.
But a further 100 containers remained on the ship, which, like the Bermuda Islander, has had to remain in port.
The Somers Isles arrived in Bermuda yesterday afternoon with another cargo of containers.
It is not known if dock-workers have started to unload her.
The disruption has thrown the schedules of all three ships into chaos.
They call in on Bermuda every week in normal times, spending four or five days at sea while completing the journeys to and from the US East Coast.
George Butterfield, manager of Meyer Freight which operates the Bermuda Islander and the Somers Isles, said: “As the vessels cannot return to the US partially offloaded, they will have to remain alongside in Bermuda until the dispute is resolved.
“The Bermuda Islander provides weekly service to Bermuda. It sails from Salem, New Jersey, Monday evenings and arrives in Bermuda Thursday mornings.
“But she has remained in Bermuda since arrival, only shifting berth so the Somers Isles and Oleander could offload their essential cargo.
Once the dispute is resolved, the Bermuda Islander will be the first ship to be completely offloaded and return to the US.
“It comes at a great cost to the lines and our customers whenever there’s a docks dispute.”
Barry Brewer, the CEO of freight company Bermuda Container Line, which operates the Oleander, said: “Whenever we get these situations we always hope that the process will be followed and a resolution will happen quickly because there’s a real urgency right now, particularly with Christmas inventory.
“A lot of people are really in need. It’s a real shame.”
Retailers claimed that the industrial action could hurt trade at one of the busiest times of the year.
Lorraine Shailer, of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce retail division, said that people had opted to stay on the island rather than travel overseas for the holiday season because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant a rise consumer demand.
She warned: “Strikes at the dock will affect us as we need to receive these goods.
“If these are unable to be taken off the dock or don’t arrive in good time, then this leads to shorter selling times, frustrated customers, and leftover stock after the key selling periods.”
Haulage companies hired to transport containers from the docks have also been hit by the go-slow.
One, who asked not to be named, said: “This sucks for us drivers – we get directly affected when they down tools.
“Also we are battling a pandemic, trying to build our economy, and it is the holiday season.
“Meanwhile a few selfish men are continuously allowed to hold the island’s goods hostage.”