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Unions back labour law change – but say talks still needed

Armell Thomas, the BPSU President, responds to Governments tabled labour legislation last year(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Bermuda’s unions will not oppose labour reform legislation to be debated in the Senate today.

But Armell Thomas, the president of the Bermuda Public Service Union, and Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said in a joint statement that “critical regulations” must still be discussed before the legislation comes into force in the summer.

The statement said: “The unions trust that with the conclusion of the Senators’ debate, Bermuda will finally see the modernisation of Bermuda’s labour laws with the passing of these two bills.

“Once adopted as law on June 1, Bermuda’s workers will see substantial changes to benefits, discipline, workers’ rights and other terms and conditions of employment.”

But the union leaders said: “Whilst the BPSU and BIU have agreed in principle with the 2020 labour legislation amendments, the unions await the critical regulations which supplement key sections of the Act.”

The statement added: “The parties have agreed that these regulations will be developed through continued collaboration and consultation.”

The unions did not reveal regulations they had targeted, but said the discussions would involve the Government, unions and employer groups.

The House of Assembly passed the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act on December 11, 2020, but it has yet to be approved by the Senate.

The statement from the unions, issued on Monday, said the island’s unions had lobbied for amendments to Bermuda’s labour legislation for more than 25 years and that the present laws were “outdated”.

Mr Furbert and Mr Thomas last year argued against clauses that allowed non-unionised workers to vote in secret ballots to end a union’s power to represent them.

The legislation also proposed that if 60 per cent of members in a bargaining unit voted for decertification, it would take place automatically.

Both union leaders said that only union members should be allowed to vote in a decertification – and that the figure for a majority should be 66 per cent, or two thirds.

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Labour, said yesterday that Ministry staff had met with the unions about the decertification process and that the parties “had agreed on a way forward”.

Mr Hayward also said a proposal by the One Bermuda Alliance to expand essential services to include specific work at the island’s ports and docks was unneeded.

He said: “The Schedule is clear that port and dock services are covered as essential work and require a 21-day strike notice.

“It is in line with the wording and intention of the Act to leave the current wording in the Schedule, similar to the provision for ’Prisons and Corrections’ and ’Electricity’ and ’Hospital and Nursing’.”

Mr Hayward added that the legislation would “modernise and clarify areas of the existing labour legislation to ensure that it is in line with international best practices”.

Non-unionised workers in a union shop must pay the equivalent of union dues to a charity of their choice.

But an amendment in the new legislation would require half the cash to go to the union and the other half to charity.

Jennifer Burland Adams, CEO of charity advisory group Wavecrest, said charities struggled throughout 2020 against a backdrop of increased demand.

She said: “It is important to note that although the amounts donated to non-profits in lieu of union fees vary widely – charities received from $0 to $27,380 according to a recent survey – often a relationship a donor has with a non-profit is broader than a mandated deduction.

“It could include volunteering, gifts in kind and further donations, over and above the union dues amount.

“It is therefore difficult to fully quantify the impact this may have on the non-profit sector in Bermuda, but it is definitely one further blow in an already challenging time to those working hard every day to support our seniors, children and vulnerable people, protect our oceans, green spaces and wildlife and offer educational, cultural and historical services.”

The Opposition One Bermuda Alliance has also raised concerns over the legislation.

Robin Tucker, an OBA senator, said the changes could hurt charities.

Ms Tucker said in an opinion piece in The Royal Gazette that charities did a lot to protect the vulnerable and needed support.

She added: “It is time to consider whether workers that do not want to become union members should pay a nominal fee of far less than 50 per cent of dues as one could fairly argue that non-unionised workers receive benefit from the union’s representation, but one could equally argue that unionised workers that do not contribute a dime to charity still receive 100 per cent of benefits if they need them.

“Should we allow this amendment and bite the hand that literally feeds and services this community? I think not.”

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Published January 13, 2021 at 8:04 am (Updated January 13, 2021 at 7:51 am)

Unions back labour law change – but say talks still needed

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