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Fahy bemoans unions stand-off

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Michael Fahy, the Home Affairs Minister

Michael Fahy, the Home Affairs Minister, says he wants the Bermuda Government and the unions to collaborate for the good of Bermuda’s workers.

With Labour Day events set to begin, Sen Fahy issued a statement yesterday, repeating his desire to extend a hand to union leadership following a turbulent period of labour relations.

He expressed dismay that the Government will not be welcome at the Bermuda Industrial Union’s Labour Day banquet at The Fairmont Southampton tomorrow, and is not invited to speak at the Labour Day march.

It comes after Sen Fahy stated in yesterday’s Royal Gazette that he was disappointed that the unions have continued to refuse to participate in Labour Advisory Council meetings.

“On this Labour Day, it is most unfortunate that the Government finds itself in the position that it is with regards to the union leadership,” Sen Fahy stated.

“Last year we could talk. We all came to the table in good faith. I believed we were working to the same ends.

“This Labour Day is much different. The union leadership has refused to attend quarterly Labour Advisory Council meetings — meetings where Government, employer representatives and unions have enjoyed an open and frank exchange of dialogue for years.

“On the back of this stance the union leadership has made it clear that Government is not welcome at the Labour Day banquet and have also decided that Government should not speak prior to the Labour Day march, bucking years of tradition. I understand this is due to ongoing legal wrangling in the Supreme Court between the Government and unions.”

However, Sen Fahy added: “Regardless of what has occurred between Government and the union leadership of late, I still wish to salute each and every worker for their contribution to Bermuda.

“This Government recognises that labour has played a huge part in driving our economy as we seek to re-engage all Bermudians in the workforce so that we can all contribute to Bermuda’s future. I remain positive that open dialogue is possible and again extend a hand to the union leadership to collaborate with Government to ensure success in Bermuda for all working Bermudians.”

Sen Fahy referred to protests earlier this year when Government wanted to continue with furlough days in an effort to tackle its crippling debt problems.

“The people of Bermuda will recall the marches in February were as a result of the desire of Government to continue furlough days to save jobs in the civil service,” Sen Fahy stated.

“The time taken off by participants was not in accordance with any labour law or collective bargaining agreements. Government accordingly obtained a temporary injunction to ensure that workers returned to work.

“All the Government is trying to do now is to ensure that the proper and lawful procedures are followed in the event of industrial action. We are not in any way trying to prevent lawful industrial action — rather we are trying to prevent wildcat action that is unlawful and not permissible in the relevant collective bargaining agreements.

“The current relationship with the union leadership cannot continue if we are to work together to improve the economy and grow jobs for Bermudians. The Government has been accommodating and open about trying to resolve our differences with the union leadership. It is extremely regrettable that the union leadership has taken the posture that they have of late.”

He said the Labour Relations section of the Department of Workforce Development is an “alternate, free dispute resource” for people who have a disagreement or dispute with their employers.

“This section also assists unions with disputes and continues to have a good relationship with them,” he said.

“From April to August of this year there were approximately 180 new complaints lodged to the Labour Relations section. The Labour Relations officers have resolved approximately 40 complaints that have been lodged with the office. It has been noted that encouraging the parties to attend a mediation session has had a positive effect on the process of a dispute.

“In May and July the Labour Relations staff updated and modernised the policies and procedures for the section. The new and improved policies and procedures took effect on August 3. I wish to congratulate the Labour Relations staff for all of their hard work in this regard.”

Tense times: Chris Furbert, the Bermuda Industrial Union president, with then-Premier Craig Cannonier and Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy at the 2013 Labour Day marches. This year, Sen Fahy has not been invited to speak (Photograph by Glenn Tucker)