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Docks action to continue - Furbert

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Union boss Chris Furbert says the two-week overtime ban at Hamilton Docks will continue as he points the finger at residents for “jumping out of their shoes” and “totally exaggerating” the delays being caused.

The Bermuda Industrial Union president has hit out at the public for “making lots of noise” rather than supporting the nearly 40 dockworkers who stopped putting in the additional hours after contract negotiations collapsed.

An agreement had not been reached even though discussions have continued between the union, bosses at Stevedoring Services and Government.

Economy Minister Kim Wilson served a binding arbitration notice last week, but Mr Furbert insists: “We've never agreed to arbitration.”

However, as the importation of goods is an essential service that cannot be severely disrupted, the arbitration looks set to go ahead without Mr Furbert's backing.

Instead Mr Furbert wants to see the reintroduction of container royalties to boost the incomes of workers. This would see workers being paid money depending on the weight of containers being brought through the docks.

This additional cost would be levied against the importers which means customers would bear the brunt of price increases for goods.

The ongoing row centres around the BIU and Stevedoring Services failing to reach an agreement on how to eradicate the “non-productive time” of workers due to the reduction in cargo volume.

Workers have only been working 37.5-hour weeks and refusing to offload any shipping containers during evenings and weekends.

This prompted widespread concerns from wholesalers and residents about a backlog of containers waiting to be offloaded and stripped on the dock and ships leaving with Bermuda freight still on board as they kept to their strict sailing schedules.

But Mr Furbert denied there had been any lengthy delays, saying all containers had been offloaded in a timely fashion and no ships had left with freight still on-board.

He said: “All the complaints about delays in containers being unloaded have been unfair to the dock workers.

“I don't think the public has been paying attention … the public should know the facts.

“All of a sudden everyone is jumping out their shoes and trying to find fault with everything.

“The men are down there working and making sure the ships are being unloaded.

“I think the inconvenience has been totally exaggerated.”.

Mr Furbert added: “We are going to continue with the overtime ban and see if we can find a way forward.

“The dockworkers aren't asking for something for nothing. We are just trying to make sure they are gainfully employed.”

However, Mr Furbert's assertion that no disruption is being caused appears to contradict why the overtime ban was started in the first place.

Mr Furbert also said when he announced the overtime ban at a press conference two weeks ago: “I know only too well how this will cause delays for retailers. The overtime ban is going to have a trickle-down effect. It's going to cause some inconvenience.”

The dispute began when workers were asked to come in just three or four days a week depending on the number of ships arriving. Temporary layoffs were also suggested as “a very last resort.”

Instead dockworkers voted to work from 8am to midday and 1pm to 4.30pm from Monday to Friday. They formerly worked an extra seven to 11 hours per week, including weekday evenings until 10pm, Sunday afternoons and through their lunch breaks.

Both parties agree that “non-productive time” is a concern as when there are no ships docked the dockworkers are not skilled to do anything else.

But Mr Furbert, who used to work at the docks himself, says he has suggested a four-day week for all staff, including managers and office workers. He believes this would be “a win-win situation for everyone.”

He said redundancies were “out the question without challenges to the country” as there were currently 38 dockworkers doing the work of 44 people.

Mr Furbert, who was flanked by dockworker union representatives Wayne Cox and Troy Smith at the press conference, added: “We have to get the situation resolved … but I have no idea where all this is going to end up.”

Peter Aldrich, general manager of Stevedoring Services said the labour dispute was referred to arbitration when Mr Furbert failed to show up for mediation.

He said reinstating container royalties would simply “shift the financial responsibility onto the general public.” Container royalties, which were given up by the union in 1972, have to be agreed by the Ports Authority and the Ministry of Finance.

Mr Aldrich said: “Mr Furbert doesn't have to agree to arbitration, we're deadlocked over what to do so it's been referred to arbitration.

“I'm being asked to deliver something I can't. Even if I wanted to reinstate container royalties, I don't have the power to do that as it's considered a public charge.

“We should go to arbitration so it can be decided whether container royalties is a just request.

“Mr Furbert just seems to be wanting to run the legal gauntlet as he doesn't want to go to arbitration.”

Mr Aldrich said 40 to 50 percent of dockworkers' working week was non-productive time.

He said: “We are paying the men to do nothing and the company can't afford to do that anymore. That's the issue here.

“Our proposals have never included changes to overtime hours, we are importing goods and workers need to work outside of normal working hours to ensure the ships stick to their schedules.”

Ms Wilson said she had received notice from Stevedoring Services that a labour dispute existed.

She said: “A Labour Relations Officer is currently engaged in mediating the issue with the relevant parties. It is my sincere hope that a timely resolution will be achieved.”

With regards to the current labour legislation, the Minister added: “In order for legislation to remain current and relevant ongoing review is required to determine the need for amendments.

“The Ministry is currently reviewing a number of pieces of legislation which falls within our remit in preparation for the next legislative session.”

Workers from Marine and Ports and Stevedoring Services dock workers get in position to assist the Cruise ship Veendam to dock alongside Front Street Hamilton.
Standing firm: Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert.

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Published August 24, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 24, 2011 at 7:46 am)

Docks action to continue - Furbert

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