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A reckless form of protest

When workers down tools, especially in areas involving essential services without notice, it is difficult not to see such action as reckless and somewhat irresponsible, no matter what the issue may be.

It also highlights the urgent need for legislation that would clearly spell out measures to protect the worker, and also to safeguard continuity in services vital not only to our tourist industry, but also Bermudians who rely on such services on a daily basis.

Most Bermudians have long been sympathetic to the plight of workers on various issues.

However, they are equally concerned when, for reasons that should have been sorted out by basic contractual agreements between unions and employers, the Island is staggered by a work stoppage that on too many occasions has left people feeling like hostages to a labour dispute that has spiralled out of control.

The Bermuda Industrial Union has over the years contributed to considerable success with workers in many areas of public life, and because of that they should never allow themselves to be perceived as condoning work stoppages by its members before every effort is made to rectify a situation at the negotiating table. This is critical at a time when the Island is locked in a tight struggle to revitalise a wobbly economy in order to create more jobs.

Government has indicated that legislation is in the pipeline aimed at averting such stoppages, as experienced last week, that left many angry and disappointed tourists stranded after pumping their hard-earned dollars into getting here. For Bermuda it was not the best form of promotion. Many Bermudians were also once again scrambling to find ways to get to work or to important appointments.

All unions have a responsibility to protect their members, and while few would have a problem with that, there appear to be times when members take advantage of collective power in downing tools if they feel something is not being handled to their satisfaction. This is where the rubber meets the road, because any union needs to show muscle, but at the same time must keep a relationship with the employer to keep the door open for resolving issues and preserving jobs.

Bermuda has undergone too many work stoppages over the years on matters that should have been resolved at the negotiating table. Each time the cry goes out that something needs to be done to to avert these stoppages, but when tempers boil over the people find themselves pawns in what appears to be a game of asserting power between management and the union.

There have been recent strides between the two groups in getting a better understanding in dealing with sensitive issues that too often lead to disputes that bubble over into work stoppages. This a good sign that hopefully everyone involved can build on. Bermuda is in need of a co-operative spirit in many problems facing this Island.

The ‘them and us' syndrome, which features so much in our society, can do more harm than good.

When there is more emphasis on the word, us, perhaps it will pave the way for reasoning and logic in countless issues that result often in furthering divisiveness politically, or otherwise.

Just as management has expectations from employees, the union also has expectations from management, and both need to work closer in the event of any breach in the work arena. Such breaches should be threshed out around a table rather than protests on our streets.

What most Bermudians favour is a sound policy that stipulates worker and management protection with a view to keeping the Island machinery fully operational, even while some matter is being sorted out for the benefit of all.

Any new legislation must provide assurance that stability will be maintained in our workforce, even though from time to time labour disputes will arise. It is a little like flying a four-engined plane with three engines out. There just isn't room for another failure.

Protest disruption: Cruise ship passengers visiting the Island form a line to wait for buses after a ferry stoppage last week caused by protesting workers

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Published June 24, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated June 23, 2014 at 11:16 pm)

A reckless form of protest

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