“ With all of their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that has ever existed.
They have done more for decency, honesty, education, the betterment of the race, and for the development of the character of men, than any other associations of men.”
Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert opened his address to hundreds of union members and supporters, including MPs Jamahl Simmons and former President Derrick Burgess, gathered in Union Square this morning with the above quote by U.S. lawyer Clarence Darrow.
On Friday, the Union received a letter from Deputy/Acting Premier the Honorable Walter Roban stating that the current dispute between the B.I.U. and the Bermuda Government regarding Section 57 of the Trade Union and Labor Relations (Consolidation) Act of 2021 is not a labor dispute. As a result, any industrial action taken by the Union is unlawful as per Section 87 of said act.
Mr. Furbert finds this extremely ironic, because in 2016, the then-opposition PLP was protesting with the BIU and thousands of other concerned citizens, when those protests were not labour-related. Now that the PLP are in power, however, they consider protesting unlawful.
Bearing all of that in mind, the BIU was served Court papers on Saturday afternoon and were expected to read through and respond to it later that day.
“ At 11:15 yesterday morning, I as the Union President had to appear before a judge, because an employer was seeking an injunction against one of our divisions to prevent them from showing their support here today,” Mr. Furbert said. “ If you do not believe that this was a direct attack on organized labor, stop and think about it.”
Not only was the Court hearing heard yesterday (on a Sunday), but Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams delivered a ruling yesterday as well. Ms. Justice Williams ruled that the Union workers in question were not to attend today’s protest. Lawyer Mark Diel represented the employers in yesterday’s case.
“ The Union is prepared to change our position on this issue, but the Government’s position remains steadfast, so much so that the Minister of Labour has been on the news on at least a half-dozen occasions saying that the decertification aspects of the 1998 and 2021 Labour Relations (Consolidation) Acts are exactly the same,” Mr. Furbert explained. “ If an Act was passed that was against labor in 1998, and a labor government does not fix that and asks us what the problem is.”
“ Why, then, did we have meetings with the Government in the past discussing possible changes to the act, and yet nothing has happened,” he continued. “ Was it all just a waste of everyone’s time?”
Mr. Furbert ended his address by emphasizing the importance of unions and where the island would be without them.
“ Prior to 2000, an employer could go up to an employee, tell them that that day is their last day of work and then decide how much pay they would receive,” he explained. “ Without organized labour, the Employment Act (2000) becomes the standard. Two weeks’ vacation time, eight sick days, 26-week redundancy pay, all of those provisions in the Act are a lot less than what they are in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
Shortly after Mr. Furbert’s speech concluded, attendees representing and supporting almost every division of the B.I.U. ( postal workers, amalgamated construction, Marine and Ports, bus operators and allied workers, Public Works and workers from the Corporation of Hamilton), marched in solidarity to protest the current Labour Minister the Honorable Jason Hayward and specifically the Trade Unions and Labor Relations (Consolidation) Act of 2021.
They marched from the BIU headquarters on Union Street up to King Street, across Front Street, up Queen Street, across Church Street and stopped at Government Offices at Global House, where they patiently waited for Minister Hayward to come out and address the crowd.
Marchers were chanting the BIU’s motto of “ United we Stand, Divided we Fall,” throughout the demonstration. After about half an hour and after some other PLP colleagues had already left the premises, Minister Hayward and Acting/Deputy Premier Walter Roban came out and briefly addressed the crowd.
“ I understand your feelings of anger and frustration,” the Minister said, almost completely surrounded by protesters. “ Government did not change the law. Any notion that the Government is out to destroy the Union is a fallacy. We have no intention of changing the law or legislation [at this time.]”
With that, he and Deputy Premier Roban walked away from the protesters.
After some further encouragement from Mr. Furbert and other Union members back at Union Square, the demonstrations concluded until 3 p.m.
Stay tuned to TNN for further updates on this story.
Reporter Stefano Ausenda
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