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Senate passes new trade union act over Opposition objections

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Charities need help: Senate President Joan Dillas-Wright
Broad outlook: Independent senator Michelle Simmons, an independent senator (File photograph)

A bid by Opposition senators to make Hamilton docks an essential service was defeated in the Upper House yesterday afternoon.

A vote on the question was taking during debate on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 2020.

A second amendment to the Act which sought to remove a clause that would see all employees in unionised workplaces make donations to a trade union was also defeated.

The new Act creates a single Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal to handle all employment complaints and labour-related disputes.

The existing nine means of mediating and arbitrating disputes – ranging from sole arbitrators to boards of inquiry – will be abolished.

There was general cross-party support for the new Act, which replaces labour laws dating from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Senate vice-president Michelle Simmons said that there had been collaboration between unions and the Chamber of Commerce when the legislation was drafted.

The Independent senator added: “Sometimes we tend to be looking at Bermuda and what’s here, but we’re part of an international community so we need to keep an eye on international standards.”

But One Bermuda Alliance Senate leader Marcus Jones said the Act was “cumbersome” and weighted heavily in favour of unions.

OBA Senator Ben Smith presented the Opposition amendment to make “ports and dock services, the unloading and loading of ships and the transport of goods to their proper destination” an essential service.

Mr Smith highlighted a dispute at the docks last month which saw stores run out of essential supplies in the run-up to Christmas.

He said that it was essential to protect the island’s supply chain in order to protect all Bermudians.

Independent Senator John Wight agreed.

“Ninety per cent of goods brought into this island are brought in from three container ships,” he said. “I think by not addressing this issue of the docks we are doing a disservice to Bermudians and Bermudian businesses.”

But Junior Minister for Labour Arianna Hodgson pointed out that, under current law, there was no need for labour disputes at the docks to drag on – because Government had the authority to send the matter to arbitration at any time.

The amendment was defeated by seven votes to four, with Independent senators Joan Dillas-Wright and Michelle Simmons voting with the Government.

The Opposition also attempted to block a clause in the new act that would make it mandatory for employees to pay a donation to a union, even if they were not members.

Currently, employees who opt out of a union make a similar financial contribution to a charity of their choice. Under the new law, half of that donation would go to a union.

Senator Dillas-Wright, Senate president, said the new law would harm charities that “have been suffering greatly”.

Mr Wight agreed – but added that it was also important for all workers to make a contribution to a union because all workers benefited from collective bargaining agreements.

Mrs Simmons agreed, and questioned what precise impact the loss of revenue would have on charities.

“We’re flying blind here because we just don’t know,” she said. “I do believe charities are struggling. But there are also some people who benefit from the work of a union but don’t contribute a penny. That is very unfair.”

Senators Dillas-Wright and Wight supported the Opposition amendment, but it was still defeated by six votes to five.

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Published January 14, 2021 at 8:50 am (Updated January 14, 2021 at 8:50 am)

Senate passes new trade union act over Opposition objections

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