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BIU defends industrial action at Hamilton docks

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The president of the Bermuda Industrial Union yesterday defended dock-workers who downed tools after a colleague was suspended.

Chris Furbert said that 32 union members at Hamilton Docks took action last Thursday after relations with management company Stevedoring Services deteriorated over the summer.

He added that the BIU made every effort to meet with management during the six days of disruptions – but that Warren Jones, chief executive officer of SSL, refused to give ground.

The dispute was halted on Wednesday after Jason Hayward, the labour minister, referred the deadlock to the Labour Disputes Tribunal.

Mr Furbert said it was important for the public to know why the union took action, and that docks management was largely to blame for the escalation of the dispute.

He added: “I think its important for the public to maybe understand things that transpired and why they transpired in the middle of a pandemic.

“I’m not venting - I’m giving the public information on why we find ourselves, where we are.”

Mr Furbert said that relations with the company became tense in April after management announced it wanted to outsource garage services.

He added the BIU had suggested that other cost-saving measures could be introduced – including temporary pay cuts for staff.

But Mr Furbert said the recommendations were rejected and the union imposed an overtime ban at the docks – and the comany drafted in “scab labour” at the weekends.

The dispute was resolved after the BIU agreed for the outsourcing to go ahead for 12 months “on the understanding that it was properly staffed”.

But tensions flared up again after five mechanics at the outsourced garage were made redundant.

Mr Furbert said: “The pandemic is just starting. Why are we having a conversation about outsourcing? When you talk about outsourcing that’s a cuss word to unions.

“I’m supposed to be the big bad monster when they were the ones who decided to make staff redundant and outsource the garage to just one person.”

A tipping point was reached last week after the president of the dock-workers division of the BIU was suspended by Stevedoring Services for holding a meeting with staff during working hours.

Mr Jones said in a later letter to the BIU that the firm would not recognise or meet anyone who represented port workers until they had been appointed and management had been notified.

But Mr Furbert said: “Here is the employer saying ’I’m not recognising this individual’.

“That’s like the union saying we’re not recognising Mr Jones till you replace him as CEO.

“The company has a right to make CEO whoever they want to make CEO. So how are they going to tell us who is going to represent us?”

Mr Furbert said that he e-mailed Mr Jones on Monday and Tuesday in the hope of finding common ground.

He said one of the e-mails: “I believe that we owe it to the people of Bermuda to find a resolution in the best interests of Bermuda.”

But Mr Furbert added Mr Jones replied that his position on the suspended union representative had not changed.

Mr Furbert highlighted that the union had managed to negotiate staff contract agreements with other employers who were forced to cut costs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic without industrial action.

He said: “So please stop putting the blame on the BIU – I think the union was making an effort to get this resolved.

“Put some of the blame in SSL’s lap. There’s one set of rules for us and an entirely different set of rules for the employer? It is time for management to be held accountable for their actions.

“The question that’s being asked is how could the workers from ports division take industrial action during a pandemic?

“But is the employer taking advantage of this pandemic, because that’s the question that needs to be asked, you know.”

Mr Furbert questioned the role of Stevedoring Services parent company Polaris in the dispute.

He asked: “Where are they? Have they given Mr Jones free reign to say whatever he wants to say to staff?

“Will the Polaris board decide to terminate Mr Warren Jones the CEO, or Mr Eric Berkeley, the operations manager, or are they in full support of what they are doing?

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Published November 27, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated November 26, 2020 at 7:29 pm)

BIU defends industrial action at Hamilton docks

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