Earlier I wrote about the apparent resolution to the crisis of this week. I chose to give this article the title of ‘Resolution, maybe?’.
I can’t but help look back at that title as being somewhat prophetic now.
Not too long ago the Sherri Simmons Show of Magic 102.7 FM read out online a letter they had obtained. This letter is from the Premier and OBA Leader Michael Dunkley, and it’s addressed (as I understand it) to his party’s membership.
And shortly thereafter the Premier and the Minister of Finance, Bob Richards, held a press conference discussing the upcoming budget and the fruit of last nights discussions.
The letter would seem to pre-figure this press conference, and the Sherri Simmons Show have kindly provided me with the transcript of the letter. I copy below the text as I received it (except where the text I received was underlined I’ve put into italics as there’s, strangely, no underlining option here).
Mr Dunkley’s Letter
January 28, 2015
Dear colleagues and members:
Three days of protests have ended with union leaders heading back to the negotiating table, as we have been urging them to do from the start.
This is a good result.
Agreement to get back to business was reached this afternoon, and work on issues that will help us prepare the upcoming Government Budget is again underway, as I write.
As Premier, I am pleased union leaders were able to move beyond their rigid position of no further talks unless furlough days were “off the table.”
The resumption of talks means that new savings identified by the Cabinet will be considered.
As I said in my public statement this evening:
“With the savings identified by all parties, we continue to work towards the goal of reducing the operating cost of Government in accordance with the strategy outlined by the Minister of Finance in his Budget.”
“With that in mind, the Government and the BTUC agree that continuing the furlough day will be considered as a last resort.”
“It is important that we now turn our attention to the work at hand which is demanded of us by the people we serve, and to ensure that we continue to function; working together to restore the promise of Bermuda for all her citizens.”
Working together has been our aim in this process. The Budget Working Group the Government formed last year, with union representatives at the table, was an unprecedented step, undertaken in good faith, to complete the Budget-making process through collaboration.
We are now back on track to make decisions that will help us get government finances back on solid footing.
While I appreciate that disruptions to public services over the past few days has inconvenienced many people, these disputes sometimes serve a good purpose, which is to re-set people’s thinking to what is important. In this particular instance, I think it is the recognition that we all need to play our part in order for our beautiful Bermuda to succeed for all its people.
Good sense has prevailed, and the work now continues.
Thank you and good night,
The Hon. Michael H, Dunkley,
Thoughts on the letter
I’m sure everyone who reads this is going to interpret it in their own way, although I imagine ones reaction to it will largely be if you support the workers or not.
I imagine that for those opposed to the actions taken this week will read this as a perfectly reasonable letter. No doubt some will think the Premier should have been more critical of the unions and outlined punitive measures against them.
For those who stand with labour – which includes myself – I reckon this letter will come across as a combination of patronising and directly insulting.
Portraying the unions as ‘rigid’ seems quite hypocritical when the only ones being rigid here are the Government. The unions have been almost overly accommodating. In using the phrase ‘good sense has prevailed’ implies that the unions actions were ‘without sense’ or, at least, ‘bad sense’.
In general I see the tone of the letter as dismissive and anti-union, anti-labour.
As I said though, I’m sure one’s reading of the letter is very much a matter of ones position either towards labour or in favour of the OBA.
Today’s Press Conference
Shortly after the BTUC announced, at the conclusion of last nights three and a half hour negotiations, the Premier made the following statement:
“I was kept abreast of discussions throughout the night.”
“Towards the end of the evening as I was getting the updates I instructed our Government team that I did not wish anything to be said to the press until the Minister of Finance was comfortable with the final numbers.”
“Unbeknownst to the Government team the BTUC made a press statement.”
“I have not even seen the financial numbers. Until we get the sign off on those numbers I feel the BTUC have acted way too quickly and that is disappointing.”
“I have reached out to Mr Furbert and expressed in no uncertain terms my thoughts to him. I informed him that they did not act in good faith and at the very least showed a glaring lack of courtesy. I appreciate the commitment of the working group tonight, it is indeed disappointing that it had to end like this.”
Which in hindsight gave an indication that the resolution in question might not be as resolved as first thought.
While they didn’t explicitly say so, the fact that the premise of the talks last night was that the reinstatement of furlough days would only be a ‘last resort’ IF the additional savings were insufficient to meet the proposed budget reductions for the coming Budget, well, it seems pretty clear that the Minister and the Premier are saying they intend to force furlough days on the public sector, whether the workers like it or not.
Throwing Down The Gauntlet?
The statement by the Premier and Minister would seem to indicate a reversal, of sorts, of the resolution to the crisis. I’m not sure if the unions will be able to interpret this as anything other than a direct challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet.
The question now is will the unions pick up the gauntlet?
After the last three days, I don’t think the unions have a choice otherwise. To have led the most impressive direct action of organised labour in Bermuda for over three decades, to then not have actually won anything is unthinkable. The members simply will not stand for it.
I don’t think the unions have formally reacted yet. I think though that’s just a matter of time.
Resolution. Maybe not.
If you ask me, things are going to get even rockier…