Dockers return to work
Local importers and distributors breathed a deep sigh of relief when unionised port workers who walked off the job returned to work yesterday on the Hamilton docks.
Following a hastily arranged meeting with the new Minister of Home Affairs, the two sides in the ongoing dispute agreed to a 40-day cool off period.
The ongoing dispute between Stevedoring Services and the Bermuda Industrial Union will in fact go to arbitration to be resolved.
Minister Michael Fahy confirmed the matter will go before the Permanent Arbitration Tribunal for settlement, effective today. And the two sides have agreed to “cease and desist any further action” in the interim.
“The Ministry recognises that the public is growing increasingly weary regarding matters of industrial action such as this,” said Mr Fahy.
“Business operations on our docks represent a vital and essential service, and these disruptions to our trade and commerce is something that our country just cannot — and should not have to endure at this critical juncture.
After listening to both sides he said: “I appreciated their advocacy regarding the various sides of the issue. And it is our hope that over the course of the next few weeks, meaningful solutions can be mapped out so that all parties involved can benefit.”
He also confirmed the Ministry’s intention to “ensure that Arbiters hears and makes an award regarding the dispute within a 40-day period”.
When contacted, BIU president Chris Furbert said he was satisfied with the interim agreement.
When asked if he felt the one-day work stoppage was the way to go, he replied: “It speeded up the process to get this dispute resolved, which ultimately was our goal.”
Stevedoring Services CEO and general manager Peter L. Aldrich noted the dispute dates back to 2011.
The company urged the Minister to “take the appropriate steps to avert the possibility of legal action”. But generally he was pleased that an agreement was reached.
But he criticised the Department of Labour Relations and labelled it as “ineffective”.
Said Mr Aldrich: “It is our opinion that we ended up where we are today due to the ineffectiveness of the Labour Relations Department and their failure to properly address our issues from the start.”
After working closely with the department throughout the entire process he said: “We received very little support and it was not conducive to a resolution being reached.
“This has also perhaps resulted in incomplete or untimely information being delivered to the Minister.”
“We sought the necessary legal advice to ensure that the company was acting legally and operating within the confines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the law as we very much respect the process,” he said.
“We are hopeful that the arbitration process will address the economic realities that both we as a company and our staff now face.
“As ever, we remain committed to working with our valued employees to find a sustainable solution.”
And he apologised again for the inconvenience to customers and the importing public “caused by the temporary inactivity at the port”.
The one-day work stoppage caused Butterfield and Vallis executives to send six employees home at noon yesterday, only to call them back in to work again.
Consumer products division general manager Edward Sousa said the decision was made when there was still no movement on the docks yesterday by noon.
“We sent six workers who unload and discharge containers home because we had no containers and then we called them back in.
“We’re delighted to hear the
Oleander was being off loaded as of 2pm yesterday,” said Mr Sousa.
“And we hope commonsense prevails in this economy and that we don’t see a repeat of another work stoppage on the docks.
“We will be delivering perishable goods to grocers up until 7pm tonight because Wednesday is a busy shopping day for grocers.”
Meanwhile, Bermuda Employers’ Council president Keith Jensen expressed concern that the work stoppage was called “so soon into the New Year and after a general election”.
“The union should respect the law, uphold their agreements, work accordingly and not go on what is essentially an illegal strike when there are other accepted and proven ways of solving disputes.”
Not impressed by the one-day work stoppage in an essential service he said: “Any strike action affects medical supplies, essential goods and potentially pushes any economic recovery further away.”
He noted that layoffs have been a part of management rights for 70 years under the collective agreement for the docks.
“Unfortunately, layoffs have become increasingly common in Bermuda; but this is the first year the dock workers have been affected.
“In the current collective agreement certain management decisions may be challenged by the Union as unfair; and whether management has the right to lay off staff at this time can be dealt with without resorting to a strike,” he said.
“The entire labour relations dispute can be dealt with under the existing law with mutual respect and goodwill and certainly without industrial strife.
“Having different positions or conflicting ideas in industrial relations is not an issue, it is how we as a country choose to resolve them will determine our future and our worldwide reputation,” said Mr Jensen.
“Industrial strife jeopardises the well-being of all Bermudians by affecting our reputation to attract investment and reinvestment in hotels and tourism and makes a mockery out of efforts to show that Bermuda is a good place to business.”
When asked for a response, Mr Furbert said : “Let the matter go through the proper process to reach a resolution that is fair to all.
“To now make attacks on the parties involved makes absolutely no sense when you start blaming one party or the other.
“If the workers are 100 percent at fault makes the employers 100 percent right and we know this cannot be true.”
Medical supplies were among the items potentially being stalled at the docks during the one-day stoppage. A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman yesterday said: “As an essential service on a geographically isolated island, Bermuda Hospitals Board does plan for potential supply interruptions. We have not had to action these plans, however, and we look forward to supplies being received from the docks in due course.”