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Belco workers protest job losses

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Job concerns: union members outside Belco yesterday (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

Union members staged a protest outside the headquarters of Belco yesterday after three staff were made redundant.

The action came after three marketing and communications staff lost their jobs at parent company Ascendant last week, when their roles were outsourced to Bermudian design and marketing firm Cosmic.

About 100 workers gathered outside Belco’s offices in Pembroke to hear Donald Lottimore, president of the Electrical Supply Trade Union, talk about downsizing and outsourcing.

Mr Lottimore said: “We are keeping a close eye to make sure Bermudians’ rights are being protected.

“Regardless of the intent of dismissing non-unionised employees, this has affected morale and the term ‘good faith’ doesn’t seem like it is being honoured. We need to make sure that our membership knew that those things are being discussed and that they don’t get the next call that you are no longer working at Belco.

“What you find in this parking lot is literally decades of service to this company. Anybody who has an idea about generating electricity is standing here today.”

Mr Lottimore added: “We are not making a threat of industrial action; we are opening the lines of communication. I don’t want to predict anything.

“We understand that the cost of our island is high and the cost of our particular utility is high — we have not done anything to increase that, so the opportunities for us to help need to be an open and frank discussion.”

Mr Lottimore said there was a possibility the redundant workers could get their jobs back.

He added: “I am sure there are options but at this moment I’m not sure where management would stand.”

One Belco employee told The Royal Gazette: “I’ve seen a lot of changes around here over the years.”

Another staff member said: “When you have a turnout like this, it’s because everybody sees the writing on the wall. If we don’t stand up for them today, it’s going to be you tomorrow.

“It is an ongoing pattern — there have been 27 people let go in two years. The marketing department went from being necessary to unnecessary in two months.

“Every company has the right to ensure the bottom line but you are jeopardising people’s livelihood to enrich the pockets of a few shareholders.

“You let go of ten people, you might save $1 million but now those ten people are facing foreclosure on their mortgages.”

A post on Facebook under the name Hales Nicole, who appeared to be a Belco employee, claimed that the firm fired the staff after a work permit for Laurie Feser, the chosen overseas candidate for senior vice-president of marketing and corporate communications, was refused because there were Bermudians qualified for the job who were not considered.

The post also alleged that an appeal against the decision was rejected by immigration officials, but that Ms Feser was working as a “marketing consultant” for Belco.

Ms Feser no longer works for the company.

Walton Brown, the home affairs minister, said on Thursday he was “dismayed at the egregious actions of this company” and that Government had “zero tolerance for such actions”.

Ascendant said that, in addition to the three redundancies, two vacant positions at the firm had been axed.

An Ascendant spokesman added: “The marketing and communications department for the Ascendant Group Ltd has been outsourced, which will result in substantial cost savings to the company.”

Union president Donald Lottimore speaks with union members (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)
Union president Donald Lottimore (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)