Ferry stoppage condemned
Morning ferries were cancelled yesterday because unionised Marine & Ports staff refused to work under the mistaken belief their division head might be fired.
However, a walkout which left hundreds of locals and tourists stranded was later branded a “wildcat” strike by the Ministry of Transport.
With thousands of visitors on two cruise ships currently in Dockyard, the only service operating out of the west end yesterday morning was Orange Route from Dockyard to St George's, using the privately-owned Millennium ferry. Regular ferry operators did not start work until around noon after talks at Bermuda Industrial Union head- quarters.
BIU head Chris Furbert said workers downed tools “for a couple of hours” under the belief that division leader Sinclair Samuels faced a stage four warning for suspension or termination, over his involvement in “an incident on the job”.
“However, after speaking to the Director of Marine & Ports, I was informed that no final decision had been made in this matter,” Mr Furbert said.
“Once this was reported to the workers they returned to work.”
Staff were also concerned about an internal audit of their department, and had requested an update from Government.
Neither Tourism and Transport Minister Shawn Crockwell or Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy responded to requests for comment.
But in a strongly worded statement, the Ministry spokesman condemned the work stoppage as unwarranted and “an inconvenient disruption for thousands of residents who depend on a reliable ferry service to get to work and to get their children to school and visitors who utilise this amenity to enhance their vacation experience”.
“The work stoppage relates to an ongoing disciplinary action against a member of Marine & Ports staff in relation to a very serious incident involving two Bermuda Industrial Union staff members. The disciplinary process and investigation is still ongoing and no decisions have been made on what disciplinary action will be taken,” the spokesman said.
“The decision to down tools this morning was entirely premature and there is no justification for doing so. Thousands of commuters and visitors, including the passengers on two ships in Dockyard, have been left inconvenienced by this wildcat strike. This is extremely damaging to Bermuda's reputation and these sorts of disruptions cannot be allowed to continue.”
Later, an emergency meeting between top Cabinet officials and BIU members resulted in an agreement for a new protocol to end stoppages, particularly in public transport.
According to a Cabinet spokeswoman, the two sides decided that “a more constructive protocol centring around solution-oriented communication” should be established, with a view to “significantly reducing work stoppages, particularly as it relates to Government's public transportation and other crucial Government services”.
Calling the discussions “healthy and productive”, Cabinet Secretary Derrick Binns said the agreement should “minimise service disruptions in the future”.
Yesterday's action comes on the heels of disruptions to bus services on Tuesday. Operators did not start work until midmorning because of a lack of toilet facilities at the St George's and Devonshire bus depots.
Yesterday the spokesman added that bus drivers would not be docked pay for that action because it was viewed as “an exceptional case”.
But Government was sticking to its policy of not paying staff who walked off the job, he said.
“This policy will be enforced with the action taken today and any similar action taken in the future.
“However, as the circumstances with the bus operators earlier this week involved a matter of health and safety, the Government did not deduct any pay as this was viewed as an exceptional case.”
Yesterday's incident was described as “a shame” by the Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber president Kristi Grayston said: “We have been working with the unions and are supportive of workers' rights, but at the same time, business is business and it's always a shame when we can't move people around the Island in a way that we should.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression and if some visitors have got off a cruise ship wanting to travel around the Island but can't, it's not going to give them a good experience.”