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OBA, UBP call for labour calm

Both Opposition parties last night called for unions and managers to avoid bringing the Island to a standstill as tension remains high in a number of industries.

For the second Sunday in a row, The

Oleander yesterday sat in Hamilton dock with nobody to unload its goods because of unionised dockworkers’ overtime ban.

It’s understood those workers will learn very soon whether they face temporary layoffs as dock managers Stevedoring’s row with Bermuda Industrial Union continues.

With the bus drivers’ dispute going to arbitration, Corporation of Hamilton workers several days into their 21-day strike notice and prison officers said to be issuing strike notice soon, the One Bermuda Alliance and United Bermuda both called for calm.

Senator Craig Cannonier of the OBA said people need to work together to avoid damaging the Island’s economy, while UBP leader Kim Swan urged unions and bosses to find common ground. Bus drivers went on strike for two days last week after driver Jennifer Harvey was fired for failing to take a drugs test following an accident which injured a passenger; they went back to work on Saturday after the matter was sent to binding arbitration.

More trouble is brewing at the Corporation, where workers are protesting the sacking of two colleagues: Michael Pond and Clevonna Symonds.

Mr Pond was dismissed after hitting a teenaged girl who abused his mother. Ms Symonds is said to have been sacked for taking sick leave to look after a child; Ms Symonds appeared in Magistrates’ Court last Friday, when she denied possessing cannabis with intent to supply.

Sen Cannonier, the Shadow Economy Minister, said: “We urge all sides in these disputes to resolve their differences in a constructive manner and avoid actions that would damage the Island’s fragile economy. Bermuda, if it is going to get on the path to economic recovery, needs its people working together.

“We hope the disputes themselves are driving the situations and not some other agendas. Dispute resolution becomes much easier when all sides understand exactly what they are dealing with.”

Mr Swan said: “The Bermuda Government decision to refer the two-day bus strike to an arbitration tribunal was a sensible decision. We are pleased Bermuda will wake up on Monday to a semblance of normality.

“There is a great deal of tension in the Bermuda air, with the social and economic difficulties that we all are experiencing, playing a big part in the stand-offs we are seeing in various segments of society. Last week’s bus dispute illuminated a Ministry, Transport, where management and labour have been at odds on many fronts this year. That is not healthy particularly in this socio-economic climate.

“The coming weeks will be challenging and we urge management and the union to look to the model of the hoteliers and BIU, brokered two years ago, clearly an agreement that can be emulated.”

Bus drivers have been at loggerheads with the Ministry over timetable changes for much of this year; while they went on strike in February, prompting the reinstatement of a driver who was fired for calling in sick only to then work a different shift for a colleague.

BIU president Chris Furbert handled calls from residents on Hott FM’s Court Radio show last night, with one caller claiming the union has lost respect from most of the public because it repeatedly defends the indefensible.

Mr Furbert replied that the union rejects many cases but added: “If the employer is going to start to fire our members for unjust causes ... if we just sit back, accept the fact that the sister is fired and not stand up for her, we may as well close the building down. The union has some ownership in this situation, but the majority of that belongs to the employer. The union’s weapon is a weapon of strike. We try to use that as a last resort.”

He said often union members accuse him of siding with Government, leaving him between a rock and a hard place, but added: “I’m not sitting around and condoning a lot of nonsense. If someone’s going the wrong way, I’m saying you are going in the wrong direction.”

Dockworkers were expected to unload the

Oleander this morning, with goods to reach the supermarkets around noon.

They have refused Stevedoring’s request to work three- or four-day weeks while less ships arrive in the dock; it’s thought temporary layoffs were due to begin today, but the BIU has been trying to stave them off.

Meanwhile prison officers had still not issued a strike notice last night, despite their anger at the ‘subhuman’ conditions they have to work in.

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Published August 22, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 22, 2011 at 10:17 am)

OBA, UBP call for labour calm

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