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Our island ship and the economic iceberg

Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, has been out in front in the dispute with the Government over decertification (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

At this writing, tensions are mounting over a labour dispute between the Bermuda Government and the Bermuda Industrial Union over an issue regarding who should or should not be eligible to vote on the matter of union decertification.

This for the union is a highly sensitive matter because in its view, anyone who is not a fully paid-up union member should be ineligible to cast a ballot. The Government’s position is that such a vote is confined to the workplace and not the union itself.

The union rejects that view, and the leadership threatened the Government with a two-day island-wide work stoppage if that policy is not changed — confirmation of which came yesterday when the Government refused to engage in further talks.

The mere talk of work stoppage is troubling during a time when the island is desperately trying to find ways to get our economy back on track after a pandemic that is still causing considerable hardship with many businesses — not to mention the impact on family life, which had challenges even before the word “pandemic” raced around the world.

The glory days of tourism when business throughout our islands put bread on so many tables are yet to return. However, tourism officials must remain positive because the pandemic will not be around for ever. Sadly, with those refusing to be vaccinated, the island will always be on the edge of a fresh outbreak.

Just imagine with all that is going on that we are having a bitter argument on our island ship’s bridge over whether we should change course to protect our passengers — in this case, the citizens of Bermuda — from an economic iceberg that could place further burdens on those trying their best to make Bermuda once again a thriving tourist and international business centre.

This is not the time to throw a wedge in the wheel of our economic infrastructure over an issue that should be settled in a boardroom. That is easier said than done because when emotions and tempers flare, finding common ground for reasoning goes out the window.

In our small population, there are those who take a solid position on either side, which often has political roots that have run deep for years. In other words, and we need to be honest, there are people who support the union without question, while others support the Government with a similar commitment.

Neither the Government nor the Bermuda Industrial Union are right all the time. There are moments when logic, reasoning and common sense should be key elements in avoiding situations where the public can often feel like hostages in a drama they have no control over.

When the bus transportation service is halted for whatever reason, many lives are affected. This service is often taken for granted, but those drivers — men and women — should be highly commended for keeping their passengers safe while negotiating some roads that would make a mule nervous.

Sadly, just as airlines are being confronted with an increase in rude behaviour during flights, our bus drivers have had to endure more than just reckless drivers and narrow roads. Some have been threatened and others assaulted. Incidents don’t always make the headlines, but these are problems that need urgent attention.

Shutdowns or work stoppages are common around the world to protest policies in the workplace that people feel are unfair.

Walking about carrying placards and beating drums is one thing, but in the end most people on both sides yearn for a settlement.

Again, because of our small population, Bermuda should have an advantage in dealing with sensitive issues in all areas of our island community. Solving problems will never be easy, but we will make better progress when we realise that we are all on this island ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

We need a more unified approach in trying to restart our economy, which will benefit all Bermudians. No one is always right, and we all know that. That means cool heads on all sides, and the willingness to do what is best for all the people of Bermuda. Our leaders must keep this as a priority as they deliberate sensitive policies connected with community life.

During my days in radio, I heard a headline from an American radio station I hope to never hear again. The newscaster simply said: “‘Bermuda is closed”. We must make certain that never happens again.

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Published August 28, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated August 27, 2021 at 6:06 pm)

Our island ship and the economic iceberg

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