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Wilson: Labour action could hit recovery

Economy Minister Kim Wilson yesterday issued a plea for workers to avoid causing disruptions as rows involving bus drivers, dockworkers, prison officers and Corporation of Hamilton staff rumbled on.

Corporation workers downed tools during the afternoon in their row over the dismissal of a colleague sacked for slapping a teenaged girl. Shortly afterwards, Senator Wilson issued a statement warning of the damaging potential of work stoppages.

“The public is becoming very weary of these frequent occurrences of labour unrest,” she said. “We are currently in a very precarious position regarding our economy.

“And any disruption to our commerce, trade and other services that are needed to make Bermuda function efficiently can have a tremendously adverse effect on our overall community.

“As an example, when such crucial services as public transportation are hampered, it has a domino effect on residents who rely on this key service to carry out their everyday responsibilities.

“In a climate when Bermudians are trying to make the very most of their resources to provide for their families, an interruption of public services due to industrial action just adds another unnecessary layer of unease on those hard working Bermudians who simply want to get through each day without having to be concerned about a public service, which is uncertain or unreliable.

“Service interruptions also have an adverse affect on our visitors who seek to explore the Island using our modes of public transport. Undoubtedly, this has a knock-on effect on our economy with reduced visitor spending.”

Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert yesterday confirmed Corporation staff had downed tools in support of sacked trash collector Michael Pond.

It’s understood close to 50 out of more than 80 employees in the industrial section are involved in the action; sanitation employees that pick up trade and domestic refuse have remained working as requested by their co-workers.

Mr Pond, 43, was fined $2,000 in court after striking the 16-year-old who reportedly abused his mother and told him: “The trash truck stinks and you stink.”

He later lost his job with the Corporation, but BIU organiser George Scott said a meeting was held yesterday morning in which “COH employees decided to support Brother Pond’s industrial dispute with COH management”.

Acting chief operating officer and secretary to the City of Hamilton, Gary Edwards said in a statement: “The City of Hamilton has not yet received formal communications on this matter and accordingly we cannot comment further.”

Sen Wilson’s statement continued: “As leaders, employers, employees and unions, we must be cognisant of setting positive examples for our next generation.

“In fact it was only last week that I spoke to about 100 summer interns and impressed upon them the importance of having a strong work ethic, which means having integrity, pride and respect in how they conduct themselves professionally.

“I also stressed the importance of going above and beyond when providing a service to others. We understand that the nature of the workplace means that disputes and complaints will arise from time to time.

“We also understand the importance of upholding the rights of the worker and finding an amicable balance when disagreements arise between management and the employee. And we also understand the role of the union to act as an advocate for the rights of the worker.

“However, again, these are delicate times that we are currently living in and it is my hope that all parties would exhaust every single available avenue to find common ground solutions before engaging in snap industrial action.”

She called on employers to ensure fair practices and the implementation of policies in accordance with standard operating procedures.

“Ultimately, it is hoped that the industrial unrest being experienced in the various workforce sectors can be resolved without any undue unease or disruption to the public,” she said.

Dockworkers have been enforcing an overtime ban since last Wednesday after a breakdown in negotiations between the BIU and dock managers Stevedoring Services; 25 workers had declined a request to work three- or four-day weeks depending on the number of ships arriving at the docks.

The ban caused delays getting food to supermarkets as the Oleander, which is normally unloaded on Sunday evenings, had to be unloaded on Monday morning instead.

Sen Wilson has served a notice indicating a binding arbitration will take place in a matter of days.

It’s understood Stevedoring and the union are currently working through several issues surrounding the arbitration with the Department of Labour.

The

Oleander left Hamilton dock around noon yesterday and is expected to return to Bermuda either Sunday night or Monday morning. But the

Somers Isles, which was due to sail from Bermuda late yesterday, is understood to be currently off schedule due to an unrelated matter; the current working conditions in Bermuda could cause difficulties getting her back on schedule.

Prison workers are reportedly upset over pay and the increase in hardened criminals they have to deal with.

Chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association Craig Clarke declined to comment yesterday, but said he would be making a statement on the issue today. Asked if any strike notice had been issued by officers, Assistant Prison Commissioner Keeva Joell-Benjamin said: “I have no information to report at this time.”

Economy Minister Kim Wilson said the number of work permits had dropped by 15 percent.

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Published August 17, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 17, 2011 at 9:57 am)

Wilson: Labour action could hit recovery

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