Log In

Reset Password

Time of celebration in Bermuda

Rallying cry: BIU president Chris Furbert speaking on Labour Day last year. The present state of labour relations in Bermuda is quite fragile (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

We shall be celebrating Labour Day on Monday and a host of activities have been planned under the auspices of the Bermuda Industrial Union of which this year’s theme is “Pathway to Unity”. Things got off to a fine start last night as many people, including a large BIU contingent, attended the 35th annual Labour Day Banquet at the Fairmont Southampton hotel where Chris Furbert, the BIU president, was the keynote speaker.

A BIU official confirmed that members of the general public have been invited to attend a Sunday morning worship service at the church of their choice, and further confirmed, that members of the public have also been invited to attend a pre-Labour Day celebration at Shelly Bay Beach from 2pm to 7pm.

Everything shall culminate on Monday when hundreds of people will participate in a host of activities inclusive of the Swan’s Running Club Annual Race and Walk, health screening tests, and of course, the annual Labour Day Parade that will commence at the BIU headquarters at Union Square where the respective members representing the various divisions of the BIU membership shall march along a parade route in the City of Hamilton.

Labour Day is a public holiday that is celebrated by many countries throughout the world, the genesis of which can be traced as far back as the latter part of the 19th century — in 1886 in various European countries. Essentially, it is a national public holiday in celebration of labourers and the working class members of society, in which their main contention was the fight for fair payment of wages and the shortening of a regular working day from 12 to 14 hours to a formal work day of eight hours. Labour Day, which is also commonly known as International Workers Day or May Day, is usually celebrated on May 1 in various countries.

The history and celebration of Labour Day in Bermuda arose subject to the amendments of the provisions of the Public Holidays Act 1947, in which Parliament declared the first Monday of September as Labour Day in Bermuda.

The first time the holiday was formally celebrated was in 1982. It was a journey in which the BIU vigorously campaigned for more than a decade and a half to secure. The crucial moment occurred in 1981 when the late PLP MP Eugene Cox proposed legislation on the floor of the House of Assembly to celebrate Labour Day on May 1 as an official holiday. The motion was subsequently amended and adopted into law by the Bermuda Government to celebrate Labour Day on the first Monday in September, to align with Labour Day celebrations in both the United States and Canada. The history of labour relations in Bermuda over the last 75 years has been marred with a few benchmark moments in which riots and social disturbances ensued. In 1965 in a labour dispute between the Bermuda Industrial Union and the Bermuda Electric Light Company, more historically known as the infamous Belco strike, in which several labourers, all of whom were lawfully picketing at the industrial site, resulted in several picketers sustaining physical injuries at the hands of the police.

Another pivotal moment in labour relations occurred in the spring of 1981 in which a minor industrial dispute between a single employer and staff members erupted into a major national crisis and an island-wide strike in which thousands of workers withdrew their labour.

One major fallout led to the ultimate resignation of David Gibbons and the appointment of John Swan as Premier and leader of the United Bermuda Party. Labour disputes in the last two decades have not been as bitter and as acrimonious, as such matters, if not resolved by arbitration, have been litigated before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, which serves as Bermuda’s highest court.

A BIU spokesman confirmed that the current status of labour relations in Bermuda has been quite fragile by virtue of matters arising from a host of thorny issues regarding the Bermuda Government’s desire to introduce furlough days; the subsequent matter regarding the recent decision delivered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court denying the Bermuda Government a permanent injunction against the Bermuda Trade Union Congress of which the BIU is a member; the airport redevelopment project; and of course, the Government’s proposed and subsequently withdrawn legislation to implement comprehensive immigration reform including the granting of status to long-term residents.

This highly contentious and provocative matter precipitated a major debacle and demonstration in which several hundred residents prevailed upon the grounds of the House of Parliament and formed a human chain around the building to prevent Members of Parliament from entering the chambers to conduct and implement their legislative agenda.

The demonstrators’ major concern was the lack of consultation and transparency by the Government with the major stakeholders, inclusive of the BIU and other support organisations, who demanded a more constructive import by virtue of the underlying racial overtones and significant impact this legislation would have on the racial and social demographics of who constitutes a Bermudian upon an application for Bermuda status.

Notwithstanding, this year’s Labour Day Celebration will be commemorated in the 70th anniversary year of the formation of the BIU. The first president of the BIU was E.F. Gordon, since chosen to be one of Bermuda’s national heroes.