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Marine and Ports workers down tools

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Back we go: Marine and Ports workers return to work after downing tools(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

About 100 Marine and Ports workers downed tools in Hamilton and Dockyard yesterday morning in a row over new contracts issued to seasonal workers.

The ferry service was disrupted after employees stopped work at about 9am.

They returned before noon, after attending a meeting at Bermuda Industrial Union headquarters led by BIU president Chris Furbert.

Mr Furbert told The Royal Gazette the dispute arose after seven seasonal workers signed extension contracts for this month, only to be swiftly told that the contracts were being rescinded.

Alternative contracts removing basic benefits from the workers were then offered to them, said the union boss.

“Marine and Ports has decided to extend their contract past October 31, but what they are doing is changing the contract altogether,” said Mr Furbert.

“They are giving them a different contract. Some have been there for the last two or three years.

“They now want them to sign a brand new contract which is completely different from the one they had before. The union can’t understand why they are being asked to sign that contract, giving up the benefits they currently have.”

Shinah Simons, vice-president of the Marine and Ports division, said the row began on Monday and escalated yesterday, when the seven staff members were told “they don’t have a job here, because they won’t sign it”.

Mr Simons said the Department of Marine and Ports was short of at least 20 staff members due to government’s hiring freeze. “We need the workers,” he said.

Torian Morrissey, BIU shop steward for Marine and Ports, added: “We couldn’t run the summer [ferry] schedule without them. We have nobody down in the yard to do maintenance.”

Workers on Front Street in Hamilton and at Dockyard stopped work in support of their colleagues, returning after Mr Furbert told them he and organiser Graham Nesbitt had had fruitful talks with the acting director at Marine and Ports.

Mr Furbert said it was hoped the Government would honour the rescinded contract, with workers getting all the benefits they had previously enjoyed.

The seven workers were hired as “seamen” — an entry-level job which involves manning the boats on the deck. Mr Furbert said the union took particular exception to the term “vendor” being used to describe the workers in the revised contract.

“A vendor to me is a vending machine where you go get a bag of chips or a soda,” he said. “That’s no classification of a worker.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities said yesterday afternoon: “The Department of Marine and Ports is back to normal after staff briefly downed tools this morning, interrupting the ferry service in a dispute involving temporary workers.

“The temporary staff were hired for the summer through to the end of October but the department has sought to keep them on.

“The disagreement was related to conditions of employment, going forward, the subject of ongoing talks between the Government and the Bermuda Industrial Union.”

UPDATED: More details and comments about dispute

BIU president Chris Furbert