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Betrayal of the Bermudian worker

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“If this was the OBA government that was making these kinds of inconsistent decisions and practising double standards that discriminated against Bermudians, it would have sparked an island-wide outcry”— Chris Furbert, April 2021

Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert takes a rare shot at the Progressive Labour Party government but has largely been silent on workers’ rights since July 2017 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

I am going to do something that I have not seen happen very much in our country. I am going to challenge the leadership of the labour movement. I want to make it clear before I begin that there is, in my view, a clear distinction between the labour leadership in our country and working-class Bermudians.

I read an interesting article on April 17, 2021 in The Royal Gazette headlined “BIU president in stinging attack on Government”. The president of the Bermuda Industrial Union supposedly issued an attack on the Government for “inconsistencies in the application of policy rules and guidelines that are occurring during our lockdown”. What was glaringly missing was any outrage for Bermudian workers having fewer jobs to return to and in many instances fewer hours of work as the economy is in major crisis.

With our economy slowing long before this pandemic hit our shores, workers in our country are facing major challenges. However, the labour leadership in our country do not have a leg to stand on, as it appears they have committed their allegiance to one political party over the interests of the workers of the country, including in its own membership. This has created a huge dilemma for the workers of the country and no one dares to point it out.

It is important to Bermuda and in the interest of all Bermudians that we have strong, functional unions in the context of a vibrant and thriving economy. The leadership of the union seems to have overlooked this part in recent years. The Progressive Labour Party is running our economy into the ground, but this appears to be a non-issue for the unions. There is no voice from the union leadership demanding that the Government does better.

We have thousands of workers in the country that are suffering tremendously while our country is shut down. Teachers, students and parents have much higher levels of stress with remote learning. Bermudians are unable to pay their rents, mortgages and basic bills. The lines at the feeding programmes are long. Bermudians are suffering and there is no voice from the unions regarding these concerns for workers or their membership.

The union leadership was very vocal and reactive about ending furlough days and opposing immigration reform under the One Bermuda Alliance in an effort to stand up for Bermudians. Under the PLP, they have quietly embraced the pension contribution deferral of their membership, which in essence means their members have to borrow from their futures to live their lives today. With one party, they fight for workers to receive additional pay by adding back the furlough day, but turn a blind eye when another party takes it all away in another form.

We remember the former president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, Jason Hayward, serving as a PLP senator on his way to becoming a Cabinet minister. In principle, the Government is inclined to pursue its policy agenda at the expense of workers’ interests if necessary, while union leadership’s primary function is to make sure that their members’ interests are advanced first and foremost.

Out of respect for its membership, at the very least, union leadership should not be cuddled up in the same bed as the Government. A true labour government’s respect for its constituents would proactively avoid this contradiction.

However, BPSU members were placed in a precarious position where raised eyebrows turned to outright dismay and confusion as to whose side their leadership was fighting for. It did not take long before the answer was revealed: the pandemic and the PLP’s mismanagement of our economy resulted in the workers being forced to accept either deferring their pension contributions or having it deferred for them. Union membership was left rudderless because their leadership is married to the PLP and not able to advocate for the workers’ interests.

The BIU’s complicity has not been as direct. However, the leadership of the BIU threw all of its weight behind the PLP to help it win the 2017 election. It spearheaded massive opposition to any attempts at immigration reform under the OBA to help rejuvenate our economy after it had been decimated by the PLP over the previous 20 years.

As fate would have it, the union leadership is now resigned to the PLP advancing those same reforms by a former BPSU president without even a whimper. The PLP is bankrupt of its own ideas so it is using the same playbook as the OBA for economic stimulation. On the one hand, there are historic protests against immigration reform and now the protesters are attempting to pass the same legislation. The bait-and-switch tactic worked remarkably well.

The primary predicament that these two unions, in particular, find themselves in is their workers are suffering from a dying economy. It should be elementary to comprehend that employers and employees need each other, and they both can flourish only in a vibrant economy. Any objective standard when reviewing the PLP in recent years and its claim to be pro-labour comes from the hijacking of the legacy of party predecessors, including Dame Lois Browne-Evans and Freddie Wade, and having labour in its name. The workers in this country are suffering more than they have done in recent memory with a labour government in authority.

The Bermudian worker needs to think about this pertinent question. Is their interest being served by the PLP government that has co-opted their unions’ leadership? The PLP has made decision after decision that has destroyed the economy of the working class. Our homes are devalued, our jobs are decreasing along with our incomes, but we have no voice to fight for our interest. The workers of Bermuda are confronted with this issue like no other time in history, but the union leadership is silent while their membership suffers.

What good are fiery speeches, slogans, marches and the like when our places of employment are closing or we are working minimal hours, thereby receiving less pay. The cost of living is increasing, but we are taking home less income. We were in a sad state before Covid hit, and now our predicament is even worse.

Bermuda, when the co-opted leadership of the union softly points out inconsistencies in policy for farmers and fishermen but ignores the severe plight of Bermudian workers and their own membership, this is in effect what they are telling us: ignore all the economic signs around us.

Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017, and more recently a candidate in the General Election in Smith's West (Constituency 9)

Come hell or high water, hunker down and follow the PLP — all the way — to increased sickness, death, prolonged lockdowns, crippling debt, higher taxes and economic ruin.

The opening quote above clearly demonstrates the inconsistencies and double standards of the union leadership. We can and must do better.

Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017, and more recently a candidate in the General Election in Smith's West (Constituency 9)

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Published April 27, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated April 26, 2021 at 4:26 pm)

Betrayal of the Bermudian worker

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