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August 2021: Union members march through Hamilton over deadlock on decertification

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Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, talks to members at BIU headquarters (File photograph)

Workers took to the streets for two days of industrial action as a row about voting rights for union decertification escalated.

The Bermuda Industrial Union warned that it had the power to bring down the Government if it failed to give in to its demands.

Chris Furbert, the BIU president, said the union could withdraw support for the Progressive Labour Party over the row.

He was speaking 11 days after he threatened David Burt, the Premier, with a major strike unless a clause about workplace decertification votes was removed from legislation.

Mr Furbert said in a letter to Mr Burt that the Premier and Jason Hayward, the labour minister, should “step down” if the “necessary amendments” to the law were not made.

The BIU earlier said Section 57 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act allowed non-unionised workers to vote on whether a workplace should continue to have union representation.

But the union insisted that only paid-up union members should be able to trigger a decertification ballot and form part of the 35 per cent needed to make a decertification application.

Bermuda Industrial Union members listen to president Chris Furbert (File photograph)

The Government insisted the legislation, which passed the House of Assembly in December 2020, would not affect trades unions.

Mr Hayward said only union members or former supporters of unions could trigger a ballot under the Act and that it was typical for everyone in a bargaining unit to participate in a decertification ballot, irrespective of trade union membership.

The Bermuda Public Service Union at first opposed the decertification clause in the legislation, but later agreed not to oppose it.

A Government spokeswoman said on August 22, three days after Mr Furbert’s letter was delivered, that there was no intention of changing the legislation.

She insisted: “The call for a general strike is most unfortunate and unnecessary.”

Cole Simons, the Opposition leader, said that both parties “really have to sit around the table and resolve their issues”.

Stephen Todd, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Hotel Association said he questioned the wisdom of the BIU’s plan for a two-day shutdown “when the focus of the Government and all industry sectors is to restore the economy”.

Nathan Kowalski, the president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, condemned the threat of a strike as businesses continued to struggle.

The BIU’s sister union, the BPSU, confirmed it would not take part in the industrial action.

Armell Thomas, the BPSU president, said it accepted that “permitting all workers in a bargaining unit to participate in both a ballot for certification and decertification is in keeping with International Labour Organisation Convention C098”.

Mr Thomas added: “This convention clearly establishes that all workers have the right to select their workplace representative and the BPSU supports this fundamental right.”

But he said the BPSU agreed with “the fundamental rights of unions to protest on matters that they feel will have a detrimental impact on their members”.

Bus and ferry services were affected after the strike started on August 30, when workers marched in Hamilton.

Mr Furbert said at the time: “The PLP government cannot afford to have 20 per cent of labour not support them in a General Election.

“Not 100 per cent of labour – just 20 per cent of labour.”

He asked: “If the chairman and the Premier and the labour minister and the Cabinet ministers are not going to think about that, why should we think about them remaining where they are?”

Mr Furbert addressed about 200 union members outside the BIU headquarters.

The march stopped outside Global House on Church Street where Walter Roban, then the acting Premier, and Mr Hayward had a heated but peaceful exchange with the BIU president and protesters.

Action that was expected to take place in September was called off at the eleventh hour when Mr Furbert said that the union was “looking at getting back to the table”.

A Government spokeswoman later confirmed there was “a mutual interest in further dialogue”.

Bermuda Industrial Union members gather on Church Street (File photograph)

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Published December 31, 2021 at 7:53 am (Updated December 31, 2021 at 9:51 am)

August 2021: Union members march through Hamilton over deadlock on decertification

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