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Questionable relationship

There are few people who are absolutely comfortable with the current relationship between Government and the Bermuda Industrial Union.

Recently Premier Paula Cox, following anxious moments over a labour dispute involving a female bus driver who refused to submit to a drug test, said Government and the Union must work together. After a brief strike and heated exchanges between the two groups, the matter was referred to arbitration for settlement.

Although both sides agreed to abide by whatever decision is reached, there is an undeniable mood throughout the country that no matter what the result, something seems terribly wrong in a relationship that constantly leaves more questions than answers.

The question of labour relations is huge with most citizens because work stoppages, for whatever reason, during crucial economic times, tend to create problems rather than solve them. It is accepted that Union leaders act in the best interests of their members, but they also must to do this with a sense of responsibility, not just for their members, but for the entire community. And it is also accepted that union members are suffering as much as anyone else in the current recession.

But no union should be allowed to hold a Government or the people to ransom over any dispute when there is a process in place to ensure that fairness in seeking a solution is the highest priority.

During the recent dispute involving Government bus drivers, tempers flared as both sides refused to budge and this raised questions over whether Government or the Union was running the country. Some have even suggested that the two are so close together it hardly made any difference.

Most people know that the Progressive Labour Party and the BIU are branches of the same labour movement tree and they share the same roots.

The PLP has argued that this enables them to ensure good labour relations, but recent events suggest this is getting harder.

Both the Government and the Union have important roles to play, but the climate becomes murky when it appears that intermingling political interest becomes a stifling factor in attempts to solve crucial differences. In fact at times Government appears hesitant in having confrontation with the union, fearing damage to a significant part of their support base.

These days, people watching all of this are able to communicate with one another within seconds, and this technology should keep both the Government and the Union on their toes.

The potential for further labour unrest remains high and unless better logic is applied by both sides, Bermuda could be setting itself up for a nasty patch of uncertainty and insecurity which is counter-productive to our efforts to regain our economic footing and keep our tourist industry alive.

If ever this country was in need of leaders with cool heads it is now. Our social infrastructure has undergone drastic changes that affect our way of life with many values held high by previous generations cast aside as part of the modern way of doing things. There is a price to be paid here.

There is no way you can plant carrots and wait for potatoes to grow. Bermuda has slipped away from values over the years that preserve dignity and integrity and any society minus these values is at risk of sinking.

The problem is that Bermudians are not as asleep as some politicians might think. What they are deeply concerned about is whether political survival for any Party is deemed more important than dealing with problems such as health care for seniors, job losses, education and a new criminal breed that is keeping communities nervous.

For the moment, there is a degree of scepticism by a good portion of the populace as to who is really running the show. Labour problems seem to escalate even before common sense and logic is applied in the interest of averting work stoppages.

It is not a question of being against unions, for they have their purpose, but when a Union is closely linked with Government, it is difficult not to view that as a questionable relationship.

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Published August 29, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated August 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm)

Questionable relationship

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