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Docks dispute causes empty shelves at supermarkets

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Sold out: Grocery stores have been hit by a shortage of some produce (Photograph supplied)
Empty: Stores across the island have been running out of fresh produce (Photo supplied)

Grocery stores are suffering from a shortage of fresh produce as a result of last week’s disruptions at Hamilton Docks.

But retailers are confident that stocks will be replenished later today following the arrival of two container ships.

The disruption, which ran for six days up until last Tuesday, November 24, forced all three regular container ship visitors to prolong their stays in Bermuda last week. That in turn impacted the schedules of two of the vessels.

The Bermuda Islander last called on the island two weeks ago -- on the day that dock-workers downed tools.

The action meant that she had to remain in Bermuda waters for almost a week until her cargo could be discharged. As a result she was unable to make her regular Thursday call last week, leaving shops unable to stock up for the weekend.

The Oleander was also late leaving the island last week, delaying her arrival by two days this week. The container ship, which normally docks every Monday, was expected to eventually arrive yesterday but the voyage was hampered by rough seas.

The Oleander is now expected to reach Bermuda at first light this morning , while Bermuda Islander is scheduled to arrive later today. Freight companies yesterday said disruptions to regular schedules had resulted in the shortages.

Barry Brewer, the CEO of Bermuda Container Line, which operates Oleander, said: “There are three ships that top up the shelves on a weekly basis and so the moment you have a disruption, be it at the docks or at sea, you really notice it.

“The first thing you’ll notice is the shortage of fresh vegetables. There wasn’t a Friday ship last week, so Oleander is going to be the first since the beginning of last week.”

George Butterfield, president of Meyer Freight, added: “With the Bermuda Islander cancelling last week’s voyage, I expect it caused challenges with our customers maintaining stock levels.

“The Islander has returned to schedule and will arrive in Bermuda tomorrow morning. The vessel will be loaded with cargo from the cancelled voyage as well, with many containers containing fresh produce.”

Dock management firm Stevedoring Services said staff had been working regular shifts since the dispute was referred to the Labour Disputes Tribunal last week.

Warren Jones, the company’s chief executive, would not comment on that matter, but did confirm that workers would be on hand to unload the vessels this morning.

Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, agreed.

“The port workers have been back on the job since last Wednesday and they are working as normal,” he said.

Yesterday store bosses confirmed there had been a shortage of many products on sale.

Seth Stutzman, president of The MarketPlace, said: “We’re short of a lot of stock but it’s mostly fresh produce. We always try and keep some stock set aside, but we can only work with what we have and there have definitely been challenges. We all know why this has happened, and our customers have been very sympathetic.

“We’re hoping that we’re going to get a ship in tomorrow – that’s the rumour. And then hopefully we’ll be back to normal by the weekend.”

Mr Stutzman added extra staff would be on duty to get produce from the warehouse to the store.

“We still then have to separate everything out and so it’s probably going to be the afternoon before goods are on the shelf,” he said.

Tredick Gorham, president of Supermart on Front Street, said the store had been able to keep stock levels up – in part because local farmers had kept the supply chain open. Mr Gorham added that the company had flown some items in.

“When things get redirected like that it’s obviously very disruptive,” he said. “But we have been flying goods in and local farmers are doing a great job. It’s been a lot of work but we have managed to find a way around things.”

Another store representative, who asked not to be named, said the lack of produce on the shelves had angered some customers.

“We’re having to put up with a lot of angry customers complaining, blaming the supermarkets for the problem,” he said.

“Customers are continually asking, if these walkouts are illegal, then why is no one held accountable?

“I’ve been telling them to deal with the person who caused the problem – Mr Furbert.”

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Published December 03, 2020 at 8:43 am (Updated December 03, 2020 at 8:43 am)

Docks dispute causes empty shelves at supermarkets

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