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Hamilton Docks: essential service or not?

Michael Dunkley is the Shadow Minister for National Security and Health, and the MP for Smith’s North (Constituency 10)

On December 11 during a busy session in Parliament, one of the Bills debated was the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 2020. The Bill consolidated the Trade Union Act 1965, the Labour Relations Act 1975 and the Labour Disputes Act 1992. It also established an Employment and Labour Relations Code in respect of trade unions, labour relations and employment matters, and provides general reforms and civil penalties.

The One Bermuda Alliance generally supported the Bill but had reservations in some areas which we spoke to and we tabled an amendment to Schedule 3, Essential Services.

In Schedule 3 those services that are deemed as essential are listed. This schedule is lifted from the First Schedule of the Labour Relations Act 1975 with such essential services as electricity, hospital and nursing, fire, air and marine traffic control among others, making a total of 16. In addition in the new consolidated Act, internet services and, prisons and corrections are also deemed essential.

The Opposition concern centred around clause 11 of Schedule 3, which refers to our docks and states that the following is also considered essential: “The loading and unloading of mail, medical supplies, foodstuffs, cattle and chicken feed, and all supplies needed to maintain an essential service herein and the transport of such goods to their proper destination.”

Seems reasonable, right?

Perhaps in 1975, but not in 2020.

This clause in the 1975 Act was lifted into the 2020 Consolidated Act. Unfortunately, it is now not effective in preserving a critical essential service — our Hamilton Docks.

Here is why.

First, a lot has changed in the transport and movement of freight since 1975 when bulk-loaded cargo was prevalent but has since given way to container cargo. More importantly, the biggest change impacting the ability of the docks to be considered an essential service is that the Act in 1975 did not contemplate 9/11 and the resulting change by the United States after the terrorist attack that any ship leaving a US port cannot re-enter American waters with the same cargo. This US legislation forces the vessels to stay in Bermuda until they are fully discharged.

This means that if there is a labour dispute or illegal work stoppage on our docks, the stevedores unload the “essential” cargo but leave the rest of the cargo on the ship. Since the ship cannot return to the US until all freight is unloaded, it is stuck in port here until the dispute is resolved. The knock-on effect is that all ships run late, product all across the island is unavailable and costs rise because of additional overtime and additional fuel consumption as the ships try to make up time when they can leave.

Three weeks ago, we witnessed the three freighters that service Bermuda all in port at one time and playing musical chairs as essential cargo was unloaded from one, requiring the movement of the others!

To help solve this problem, the OBA proposed an amendment that read: “The unloading and complete discharge of all ships, the loading of empty containers for return voyage and the transport of essential goods to their proper destination.”

This amendment would have served the purpose of making the docks an essential service and not a loophole to be manipulated.

Sadly, the Progressive Labour Party government did not accept the amendment. Labour minister Jason Hayward, in his brief reply, said that, while it may be logical, the Government cannot support the amendment.

The PLP has said that it governs for all the people. Not supporting this amendment clearly demonstrates otherwise. The PLP is comfortable for illegal work stoppages to continue, for costs to continue to rise owing to this type of action and for Bermudians to suffer the consequences.

Michael Dunkley is the Shadow Minister for National Security and Health, and the MP for Smith’s North (Constituency 10)

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Published December 21, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 20, 2020 at 9:28 am)

Hamilton Docks: essential service or not?

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