*Photo supplied
*Photo supplied

Good afternoon,

As you are already aware the Government has tabled a Bill entitled “Labour Relations Amendment Act 2014”.

The purpose of this Bill is to designate, by inclusion into the First Schedule of the Labour Relations Act 1975, public transportation as an essential service. 

For the sake of clarity, I just want to take a moment to reiterate a few of those services that are already considered essential:

• Electricity

• Services provided for the protection of the public health and the prevention of disease including the collection, transportation, processing and disposal of trade and domestic refuse and sewage.

• Hospital and nursing.

• Domestic and industrial gas.

• Port and dock services including pilotage, tug and line boat operation (not connected with cruise ships).

• Fire.

• Lighthouses.

• Air and Marine Traffic Control.

• The refuelling and maintenance of aircraft to the extent that this is necessary to maintain the essential services.

• The loading and unloading of mail, medical supplies, foodstuffs, cattle and chicken feed and all supplies needed to maintain any essential service specified herein and the transport of such goods to their proper destination.

• Transport necessary for the maintenance of any essential service specified herein and the maintenance of such transport.

• Telephone and overseas telecommunication.

• Meteorological services.

• Airport security services (other than Police service).

• Ground electronic maintenance services connected with the safety of the Bermuda Airport and aircraft.

• Airport infrastructure support services, crash, fire and rescue services and air navigation services related to the Bermuda airport.  •

The latter four were added to the schedule of essential services in 1995.

Ladies and Gentlemen much has been said in certain sectors of our community about the fact that public transportation is not an area that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) lists as an essential service. 

I must take this opportunity to make something very clear.

Over time, the supervisory bodies of the ILO have brought greater precision to the concept of essential services in the strict sense of the term for which strike action may be prohibited.

In 1983, the Committee of Experts defined such services as those “the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population”. 

This definition was adopted by the Committee on Freedom of Association shortly afterwards.

Clearly, what is meant by essential services in the strict sense of the term “depends to a large extent on the particular circumstances prevailing in a country”.

Likewise, there can be no doubt that “a non-essential service may become essential if a strike lasts beyond a certain time or extends beyond a certain scope, thus endangering the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population”.

Thus, the Committee has considered to be essential services in the strict sense, where the right to strike may be subject to major restrictions or even prohibitions.

In short the ILO says essential services are those services where strikes are prohibited or are severely restricted. 

The only service in Bermuda like that is the Police service which is prohibited from striking. 

The Bermuda model of essential services is a hybrid – since Bermuda essential services can still strike but with a 21 day notice.

As I have said before, the disruption of the public transportation services negatively impacts the Island as most commuters find themselves at the last minute having to make alternative travel arrangements – whether to work, home or school as is the case with our children – until the industrial action is resolved.

Not only does this cause great inconvenience, but it has an adverse effect on the Bermuda’s economic health as well as our reputation as a premier tourist destination.

The consequences of such actions are costly to Bermuda with the knock on effect being the loss of fare revenue as well as the opportunity costs – that is, the loss of future visitation, given the word of mouth factor, owing to Bermuda becoming more known for its unreliable public transportation services. 

The lucrative cruise segment which we are making every effort to sustain and expand, relies heavily on the public transportation services to facilitate passenger movement around the Island.

It is for this very same reason that during the past year of meetings held with the cruise ship executives and other entities wishing to establish business in Bermuda, one of the key concerns that continues to arise is the uncertainty of our labour industry – especially relating to public transportation services.

Irregular industrial action in this area does in fact represent a serious challenge to the economic well-being of Bermuda. This was in fact recognized by the previous Government who reportedly agreed with the BIU a cooling-off period of 72 hours for all BIU workers prior to taking industrial action.

The Government is anxious to see development and certainty for investors – it will ensure our economic survival. We would like this concern to be a thing of the past by providing assurances that the Government is doing its part to address the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, to ensure that the public has the benefit of the full facts, during recent consultation with the Labour Advisory Council and the BIU, one of the concerns raised by the latter was the fact that the Ministry was not making Public Transportation an Essential Industry as opposed to an Essential Service.

I must re-emphasize that an Essential Industry, as prescribed in the Fourth Schedule of the Labour Relations Act 1975, lists the business of a Hotel as an Essential Industry only.

Public transportation is a service that the Government of Bermuda provides which our residents (including our school children) and visitors alike, come to depend upon as one of the most efficient public transportations services in the world. 

So as I have already said, when irregular industrial action occurs, this causes a major disruption to the service which negatively impacts on the efforts the Government is trying to make with respect to growing the economy – which we are now starting to see.  It is important to note that Essential Industry disputes do not provide for notice to be given.

Based on our consultation with the Union, and I reiterate there was consultation, it would appear they may be concerned about the implications of passing this legislation that they say could potentially undermine their bargaining power or remove their right to strike. 

I would like to make it again abundantly clear that the Government is not trying to remove the Union’s ability to strike should they not be satisfied with any progress related to industrial disputes. 

On the contrary, the Government is simply looking to require a 21-day notice period prior to the withdrawal of labour. 

And this 21-day notice period represents a “cooling off” period which provides management and the Union an opportunity to resolve their grievances prior to escalating the matter.

This Government believes in the rights of workers. That is a fundamental principle of labour. We also support the ILO committee on Freedom of Association’s view that strike action is a right.

However attached to that right are the following prerequisites:

1. the obligation to give prior notice;

2. the obligation to have recourse to conciliation, mediation and (voluntary) arbitration procedures in industrial disputes as a prior condition to declaring a strike, provided that the proceedings are adequate, impartial and speedy and that the parties concerned can take part at every stage;

3. the obligation to observe a certain quorum and to obtain the agreement of a specified majority;

4. the obligation to take strike decisions by secret ballot;

5. the adoption of measures to comply with safety requirements

6. and for the prevention of accidents;

7. the establishment of a minimum service in particular cases; and

8. the guarantee of the freedom to work for non-strikers.

There are some who say that this legislation in union busting. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We wholeheartedly believe in protecting the rights of workers, employers and our residents by introducing this Bill. 

We must see the end of our school children being stranded by the road side.

We must see the end of employees missing out on badly needed paychecks because they can’t get to work.

We must see the end of tourists trying to thumb rides to town to spend money in our shops.

We must see the end of our seniors waiting for a bus that never comes.

In short, adequate notice is not unreasonable to have. It is logical and sensible.  We are continuing the process of updating the Bermuda legislation to more adequately reflect best practice in other jurisdictions. 

I give homage to those unionists who worked and continue to work for worker’s rights.

With that said, I must reiterate that there are Collective Bargaining Agreements in place now between unions and employers and government. There is a statutory framework that is too often ignored. The ILO makes it clear that when these frameworks are in place they are there for a reason.

As the Minister responsible for Labour, it is my duty to ensure that those frameworks are followed – this Bill will add to the statutory framework and give economic certainty for all concerned. 

Finally ladies and gentlemen, we will continue to collaborate and develop a relationship – Governments and unions do not need to be at odds.

It is my hope that we can see our way through this impasse and get to a place of reconciliation.

This Government is working to make Bermuda work for everyone - to make sure the recovery takes off to grow the jobs and incomes Bermudians sorely need; to put the years of unemployment and decline behind us.

I am happy to take a few questions.

Thank you.