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Transport workers march on Parliament

Around 200 unionised bus and ferry workers marched on Parliament this afternoon in protest of Government plans to make public transport an essential service.

Carrying a Bermuda Industrial Union banner and chanting slogans such as “United we stand, divided we fall', the workers marched through Hamilton before reaching the main entrance of the House of Assembly.

BIU President Chris Furbert explained that the march was held following a meeting of public transport staff who were “very concerned” by the proposed law. Under the amendment, public transport staff will be outlawed from holding wildcat strikes and will instead have to give 21 days notice before taking any industrial action.

Mr Furbert said that, under international labour laws, public transport was not an essential service as it was not “a matter of life and limb”.

“We had a meeting this morning with them and as you can see they are very concerned with the legislation that the [Labour and Home Affairs] Minister tabled on Friday,” Mr Furbert said.

“As you can see the members are very concerned about the legislation, the proposed new legislation and how it's going to take their rights away from them — their right to strike, which is an ILO [International Labour Organisation] document that says that a right to strike is a worker's right to do exactly that.

“When we look at making public transportation an essential service, we don't see the need for that. It's not a matter of life and limb, where you look at the reasons why we made all those other services essential back in 1975, whether it was hospitals, whether it was docks, whether it was TELCO, whether it was the BELCO, you look at all those services, those are essential as it relates to life and death situations.

“When we look at public transportation, this is not a life and death situation, so we're wondering why the OBA government is now decided they want to make the buses and the ferries an essential service, and Marine and Ports and DPT an essential service.

“When you look at some of the comments that's been made in the paper today, it's a form of union-busting and I will say this to you: it can't be described as anything else, other than that. This is not 1834. We're not going back to slavery. We're not going back to the plantation,”

Mr Furbert was joined by Opposition leader Marc Bean and a number of Progressive Labour Party MPs. Deputy Opposition leader Derrick Burgess — a former BIU President — condemned the proposed law, saying that it demonstrated that Government wanted to make people unemployed.

Premier Craig Cannonier, flanked by members of his Cabinet, then emerged from the House of Assembly to address the crowd.

The Premier insisted that Government was willing to listen to the concerns of staff and had no plans to lay staff off.

He added that the Government had held recent discussions with the BIU about making transport services an essential category.

But he said that everyone had “a collective responsibility to the people of Bermuda”.

“Let me just assure everyone that is here, this is not about taking away anyone's jobs,” Mr Canonnier, who was frequently heckled, said.

“We have already committed that we would not be taking anyone's jobs away from them. We have made that commitment. I have said it over and over, we are not looking to have anyone lose their jobs, what we are looking for is a collective responsibility to the people of Bermuda, and if we can find away we can collectively be responsible, then that is the way that we need to go.

“It is vitally important that when we look at essential services concerning these departments, that to the people of Bermuda we be responsible. To the young kids and to the seniors that are catching the bus.

“There has to be a limit, and what we want is a responsible way of being able to say if there is a need and we have a disagreement and that we are going to put down our tools, that we give the people of Bermuda a responsible time to be able to do that.”

Public transport services were disrupted by the meeting, which began at 11am. But staff vowed to be back on the job following the demonstration, which ended at around 12.45pm.

Public transport workers march to the House of Assembly this afternoon.

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Published March 05, 2014 at 1:22 pm (Updated March 05, 2014 at 1:53 pm)

Transport workers march on Parliament

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