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Unions to boycott Labour Day events

Thousands of union members are being urged to boycott Labour Day events because the celebrations are taking place at “the wrong time of year”.

Bermuda Trade Union Congress (BTUC) yesterday asked the eight unions it represents not to participate in any events marking the 30th anniversary of the celebration of Labour Day in Bermuda.

The Bermuda Public Services Union (BPSU) then quickly followed suit and e-mailed its members urging them to stay away from Monday’s celebrations. The BTUC say it is “counterproductive” to participate in celebrations as they see International Workers’ Day on May 1 to be “the true Labour Day.”

The Labour Day events, organised by the Bermuda Industrial Union, include a march through Hamilton and public discussions on the trade union movement by Ottie Simmons, Ira Philip and Collin Simmons. The boycott has been organised after BTUC pledged to work with employers rather than being “constantly at war”.

But they strongly deny it is a personal dispute with the BIU, which has been involved in a string of disputes in recent months.

As well as the BPSU, the BTUC also represents Bermuda Fire Services Association, Police Officers Association, Prison Officers Association, Bermuda Union of Teachers, Bermuda Electrical Supply Trade Union, the Association of School Principals and the Bermuda Federation of Musicians and Variety Artists.

The BTUC correspondence sent to its affiliates states: “From its inception, the Bermuda Trade Union Congress has always insisted on the observance of the International Workers’ Day as the true Labour Day.

“We have made presentation to Government, who we know fought valiantly, while in the opposition for the observance of May 1 as the day to recognise all workers. While we would wish to stand in solidarity with all the workers and workers organisations, we see it as counterproductive to participate in celebrations for an alternative day”.

Wendell ‘Shine’ Hayward, president of the BTUC, said they were simply continuing to push for Labour Day to be celebrated on May 1 like it is around the world. He said: “We do not want to recognise Labour Day at this time of the year, it doesn’t make sense to us. It’s the wrong time of year”.

Mr Hayward said it was “most definitely not” about a personal dispute with the BIU and “had nothing to do” with union unrest among certain workforces.

But he then added: “We definitely do encourage early, honest dialogue between Government, employers and the unions. We know problems aren’t going to be fixed with immediate solutions but there are more creative alternatives to strike action.”

The BPSU e-mail to its members explained it would be “irresponsible” of them to participate in tonight’s BIU Labour Day Banquet at the Fairmont Southampton Resort at a cost of $100 per ticket as “so many of our members, former members and their families are experiencing hardship in this current economic hardship”.

It goes on to say that the BPSU’s ‘social responsibility mandate’ was to turn around Bermuda’s economy, help raise awareness of the plight of the unemployed and help to reduce the issuing of work permits for jobs that Bermudians are skilled to do.

BPSU president Kevin Grant said the union executive had yesterday decided to act “based on the recommendation of the BTUC”. He said: “We are not going to be there this weekend, we are not going to be part of the celebrations, we have asked members to stay away from events. “We have been dealing with issues such as redundancies and cuts within certain departments and with the economic climate the way it is, we feel there is much more pressing issues that should be brought to the forefront”.

Mr Grant added: “there’s no personal rift” saying that every union stood up for their workers’ rights in the best way they could.

He said: “We know the labour movement is strong in Bermuda and we agree with that, we just don’t advocate the celebration at this time. It’s not that we are saying we shouldn’t honour our forefathers for all the hard work they did for workers’ rights”.

BIU president Chris Furbert said he was “very disappointed” with the actions of the BTUC and questioned whether there was “more to it”.

He said: “Of course the TUC have the right to say they don’t want to participate, that is up to them. It is the 30th anniversary for Labour Day celebrations and it’s very disappointing to hear this is happening.

“We tried to have the holiday recognised in May but the Government of the day voted against it. Therefore until the holiday is changed, this is the day we have to observe”.

Mr Furbert added that he “took issue” with the wording of the BPSU’s e-mail to its members saying they were being “disingenuous”. He said they couldn’t question the cost of the BIU Banquet tickets when they had moved their own annual conference from the BPSU HQ to the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel.

Participants in the 2009 Labour Day Parade march up Queen Street led by the Bermuda Regiment Band. (Mark Tatem)

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Published September 02, 2011 at 10:47 am (Updated September 02, 2011 at 10:47 am)

Unions to boycott Labour Day events

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