BPSU AGM, Thursday October 8th, 2015

There’s quite a bit of discussion on social media and the RG today regarding the BPSU’s upcoming general meeting slated for this Thursday (5:30pm at St Paul’s AME Church). A lot of this seems to stem from an anonymously authored email/flyer that makes certain statements in a particular phrasing.

In the hope of ensuring the conversations around this are more informed, I thought I’d provide some key excerpts from the BPSU’s Constitution and their recently released 2014-2015 Annual Report, which generally answers or clarifies some of the issues in question.

I encourage members (and others) to take the time to review the entire report. I am only taking excerpts that answer some of the key questions, in the hope of providing a quick read.

I stress I am not taking any sides or making an opinion here. BPSU AGM

I am just quoting from the publicly available report concerning the issues that seem to be causing most of the concerns in social media. I leave it up to readers to come to their own conclusions, and encourage members to attend the meeting to voice any concerns or seek further clarity.

I am not a member of the BPSU, so I do not speak for them. Just providing a ‘public service’ in the hope of more informed discussion. ūüôā

AGM 2015

The meeting called for tomorrow is in accordance with Article V (Organisation), Section 2(a) (General Membership Meetings, subsection (i) of the BPSU’s Constitution (as amended in February 2015). In particular, this reads:

2(a) General Membership Meetings

i) The General Council shall convene a General Membership Meeting at least once a year.

Notice of this meeting was initially given on August 18th, 2015.

Why this ”¬†is the first general meeting that the BPSU will have had in decades” according to a statement by the BPSU President in the RG article in question, is not something I can answer. Without looking at an older copy of the Constitution (pre-2015) I cannot say whether the Constitution required such a meeting previously, or if this was somehow neglected to date. I don’t know.

BPSU President acting as Treasurer

Page 25 of the report provides clarity on this:

“The BPSU received the resignation from both the 2nd Vice President and Treasure and, as a result, a bi-election was called to fill the two vacant positions…. […] As a result of no nominations being made for the post of Treasurer, the General Council was charged with electing an officer from General Council to serve as Treasurer until the next Triennial Election. In June 2015, the General Council elected the President Brother Jason Hayward to take on the additional responsibilities as Treasurer of the BPSU. For additional financial oversight, a Finance Committee was also appointed to ensure that the BPSU finances are under proper stewardship.”

I do not see anything in the report that speaks to claims the BPSU President is also receiving $10k as compensation for this role in addition to his Presidential salary.

The BPSU President’s Salary

Page 25 provides information concerning the Presidency becoming a full-time paid position, while page 26 provides information concerning his salary. Regarding the salary question, the relevant paragraphs are:

“The delegates also approved the formulation of a President’s Post Review Committee that was tasked with determining appropriate remuneration for the post and to explore the feasibility of this post being filled in the future by secondments and leaves of absence.”

“On September 9, 2015, the General Council decided that the salary for the post of the President will be set at $119,478.70. This salary was based on a review completed by a Presidents Post Review Committee (PPRC) and an independent HR firm. The PPRC recommended a salary of $141,458.77 and the HR firm recommended salaries of $110,000 (entry level), $131,000 (midpoint level), $154,000 (maximum level). Other factors that were taken into consideration were salaries of the Secretariat Staff, the President’s current responsibility, and financial sustainability.”

Attendance Records, etc.

The report makes for some interesting reading, and I think it’s good for all members (and the general public) to review it to learn more about what the union has been doing and where it’s going. Members, for instance, might find the attendance records of Officers (pages 39-41) interesting for example, amongst other interesting bits in the report.

Advertisements

Happy International Women’s Day 2015!

I generally write an annual article to commemorate this event, and this year is no different – only, as with last year, it’s on Bernews rather than my blog.¬†

This year I decided to build on a theme from my 2012 election platform:

“Enact Workforce Equity legislation to require all workplaces with more than 10 employees to develop a workplace equity review and plan to ensure gender and racial equity in the workplace concerning wages and decision-making. ¬†Enable workers to seek compensation for unequal gender or racial pay regimes up until the year 2000.”

I decided to focus on the matter of gender (and racial) equity concerning decision-making in particular, and the article itself provides some useful links that I used for the argument. ¬†I was also working on an equal pay aspect, but the article got far too unwieldy – so I’ll develop that for an article in it’s own right.

I would like to add a quote which I ultimately decided to cut from the article itself, because I think it does make a good point and is something to consider going forward. ¬†It’s an excerpt from a 1983 work The Nouveau Poor by Barbara Ehrenreich and Karin Stallard – though over thirty years old, it still seems pretty valid to me!

“We need a feminist economic program, and that is no small order. ¬†An economic program that speaks to the needs of women will have to address some of the most deep-seated injustices of a business-dominated economy and a male-dominated society. ¬†Naming it will take us beyond the familiar consensus defined by the demand for equal rights – to new issues, new programs, and maybe new perspectives. ¬†Whether there are debates ahead or collective breakthroughs, they are long overdue; the feminization of poverty demands a feminist vision of a just and democratic society.”

Point Counter Point

Not too long ago I published an article asking “where’s the BTUC?”, noting that the lack of response to the press conference by the Premier and the Minister of Finance yesterday was detrimental to the organised labour movement, and I was arguing that the BTUC need to respond soon and, more specifically, rebut the points made by the Government there.¬†Point2

Well, shortly after that, the BTUC did exactly what I was advocating and have released a rebuttal to the Government’s press conference last week.

Point1

Needless to say they’ve got quite a radically different perspective of the events in question, and seem quite (understandably) angry.

BTUC statement Jan 30th 2015 (pdf)

As I noted previously, the trust relationship between the Government and the unions was in tatters last year. ¬†The genesis of this week’s crisis highlighted that and further eroded what little trust remained.

It’s hard to imagine there’s any trust, whatsoever, remaining after the last 36 hours.

My previous post, calling on the BTUC to respond and rebut argued that without the BTUC’s response the Government is able to selectively reveal some proposals, and to do so without context. ¬†I argued that this seemed, to me, a deliberate attempt to sow division and play off different factions of the working class against each other – specifically against the organised labour movement (the unions).

The rebuttal by the BTUC would appear to largely gel with my own reading.  It makes clear that the more controversial proposals (cap on financial assistance in particular) were not those of the unions at all, but proposals from the Government instead.  Indeed, the BTUC response states the following:

“The first four (4) items discussed were ‘caps’ on Financial Assistance, Consolidation of Schools, Travel and the Agricultural Exibibition. ¬†Recognising that they were pre-approved items from the Cabinet meeting on Monday, January 26, 2015, the BTUC after some discussion agreed that if these cuts are to be made, it was the Government who must justify its position on these contentious items to the public. ¬†The BTUC wondered why the Government needed permission from the BTUC for such cuts. ¬†The BTUC realised it was a sad way for the Government to place accountability on the BTUC for their political decisions.”

Yeah, the language there clearly expresses the breakdown in relationships between the two sides and directly challenges the Government to clarify who put forward these proposals.  In the press conference yesterday this was somewhat ambiguous Рwith the implication from the Government side that this was a union proposal.

The rest of the BTUC’s document provides context to other decisions which were absent from the press conference yesterday, especially the increase in GEHI contributions for spouses (explaining that the unions recognised that GEHI is currently underfunded).

The BTUC document provides a reasonable account of the Wednesday talks, and it challenges Government to refute it.

“The BTUC categorically rebuke the falsified allegation and the slanderous remarks made by the Honourable Premier, Michael Dunkley JP, MP and the Honourable Minister of Finance, Minister Bob Richards JP, MP. ¬†We call upon the persons who were actually in the room, Dr. Derrick Binns, Mrs, Cherrie Whitter, Mr. Anthony Manders, Mr. Gary Phillips, Mr. Martin Law, Mr. John Harvey and Mrs. Jonelle Christopher to authenticate the accuracy of the above mentioned.”

While the relevant civil servants involved would not be able to do so (it would be a breach of civil service orders), but the hired negotiators for Government (Gary Philips, Martin Law and John Harvey) are not under such orders Рalthough its likely their contract with Government precludes revealing such information.  Only an order from the Premier would allow the release of the authentication the BTUC challenges the Government to reveal.

I’m not sure what the Government were thinking here.

Did they expect the BTUC to not respond to the provocation of yesterday?  Or did they expect it, but calculated they would be able to solidify their own support base and sow enough doubt to achieve whatever they hoped (sow division and confusion, both among union members and between the unions and other sectors of society?)?

The BTUC have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the Government in their provocation on Thursday. ¬†They’ve picked it up and directly challenged the Government to refute the account they’ve given of the Wednesday talks.

There are two questions (well, and sub-questions) now

  1. Will the resulting duel go ahead or can some resolution be achieved in advance?
    1. Will the Government consider itself check-mated by the BTUC’s rebuttal and concede – removing furloughs and sticking with the agreement of the Wednesday talks?
    2. Or will the Government continue to provoke a confrontation with organised labour?  If this is the case the resulting actions are the fault of Government, not organised labour.
  2. If the duel is to proceed, then ‘when’ and ‘how’?
    1. Will we see a return to ‘Occupy Cabinet’?
    2. Will we see an expansion of the ‘occupation’ to other key points (Cabinet, House of Assembly, Clifton for example)?
    3. Will we see mass action like last week, or targeted and rolling action?
    4. Will we see novel actions develop?
    5. What can we expect for the resumption of parliament, I believe on February 13th?  And for the Budget?

I still think the BTUC should go one step further and release their full proposals from earlier in the Budget Reduction Working Group talks – they claimed to have proposed savings of up to $65-85m (I’m not sure of the range, but I figure they’ve put a low, medium and high range in their valuations).

Right now it’s all point counter point. ¬†The question is what’s the next thing to expect, and when?

Where’s the BTUC?

UPDATE – Shortly after I published this article – within an hour or so – the BTUC released their response to Government. ¬†Nonetheless, I think the thrust of this article remains relevant, especially my reading of the divide and conquer tactics being employed by the Government. I’m going to review the BTUC’s statement and plan to post a new article concerning it shortly.


 

Since the Premier and the Minister of Finance’s press conference yesterday, largely reversing the understood resolution to the crisis announced by the BTUC the night before, there’s been no public response by the BTUC to date.

question mark

While there’s likely a reasonable explanation for this – I imagine they’re furious and meeting in private to work out the best reaction – their lack of response so far would appear to be to their detriment.

By not responding – even to say something along the lines of ‘we’re disappointed at the apparent reversal of the situation from what we were led to have been a satisfactory conclusion to the problem, and we’re meeting to discuss our next steps, we’ll be holding a press conference at X time/date where we’ll give a more detailed comment’ – they’ve let Government dominate the discourse.

Additionally, by failing to release their own proposals (remember they said they came up with savings of $65-85m), they’ve given the opportunity to the Government to selectively highlight some of the ‘agreed’ cost-saving measures without providing context or the union’s perspective on them.

We quite simply don’t know if some of these proposals were something the unions agreed to reluctantly and why – or if they got additional concessions in some form of horse-trading. For all we know, looking at the cap on financial assistance for example, perhaps the Government proposed a much more drastic cap and the unions realised they couldn’t prevent ‘a’ cap but instead negotiated the least draconian cap they could. We just don’t know, and we’re left guessing.

Which I can’t help feeling is the Government’s intention in releasing these selective proposals without full context. I get the impression that the Government is trying to sow division by pitting different sections of the working class against each other.

Focus the unemployed reserve army of labour – the ‘lumpenproletariat’ to use a close Marxist term – at the throats of their union brothers and sisters. Alienate whole sections of the public with the loss of the carnival of the Annual Exhibition/Ag Show. Mention the hot potato topic of consolidating schools without clear context (are we talking moving pre-schools out of rented private sector properties and consolidating the staff and students at nearby under-capacity publicly-owned pre-school properties or something else?) and try to turn parents against the unions?

Divided we fall is the union mantra. And what better way to respond to unprecedented displays of workers solidarity and union unity than trying to subtly (well, perhaps not so subtly) divide and conquer?

As it stands right now, it’s not clear that the three days of unprecedented labour action actually won anything concrete from Government. The press conference last night was a pretty much veiled threat of ‘accept furloughs or we’ll force an equivalent on you’.

This is pretty much an echoing the letter from the Minister of Finance from last week that if the unions didn’t agree to an extension of furloughs then Government would unilaterally force the equivalent through ‘the reduction of salaries of Government Employees equal to the savings achieved in the current financial year by the furlough’.

So, yes, the Government can’t force furloughs on the workers. But they can get the equivalent pound of flesh through unilateral action.

The longer the BTUC takes to respond and rebut the Government, the longer its members will be left confused and the greater will be the anti-union sentiment among the wider community.

So, where’s the BTUC?

Acting cautiously is something to be commended, and it’s wise to ‘be watchful always’, but don’t leave it too long to respond and give your side of the story.

Quick thoughts on the current situation

I intend in this post to just put down some quick thoughts on the current situation; apologies for them not being fully worked out – just putting them out there for the sake of encouraging feedback!

  1. The actions of the Government have solidified and unified organised labour in Bermuda.
  2. The actions of the last day have shown the workers what power they can have and set a precedent to build on going forward.
  3. Despite this, questions must be asked of the union leadership:
    1. Have they capitulated to the Government too much and too quickly?
    2. If so, why?  What caused this?  Were they misled, or were they afraid of something? If so, how, or what?
    3. What is the role of Reverend Tweed in all this? ¬†I respect him and I think the People’s Campaign is great, but the actions here were the unions. ¬†And yet Reverend Tweed seemed to be involved in the negotiations with Government. ¬†Why? ¬†He’s not elected by the members.
    4. Were union members adequately involved in the decision making of the last few days?  If not, why not, and how can that be handled better going forward?
  4. The BTUC should release ALL of the proposals they’ve put to Government. ¬†Both originally and subsequently. ¬†Right now we only know what the Government has agreed to, and the Government has every interest in being selective on this, and spinning it to their advantage. ¬†The BTUC should let the people know what they proposed and why, immediately.
  5. Following the confusion from last nights talks, with two rather different interpretations coming from the BTUC and the Government, the question has to be asked of whether any further negotiations should be conducted privately.  Perhaps its time for the BTUC to insist that any subsequent negotiations be either down in full view of the public, or at least with selected journalists present.  Alternatively, at the very least, the full minutes of these negotiations should be released now.
  6. In the three days of action we saw an unprecedented level of organisation, with provision of food and shelter at the occupation of Cabinet Lawn, and even entertainment.  We also saw the beginnings of community mobilisation to deal with (a) supporting the workers; (b) dealing with waste management; and (c) transportation for workers.  In this we saw an embryonic new form of society, a participatory and grassroots system, based on both the workplace and the neighbourhood.  These were only embryonic, but point towards future developments and an alternative social and economic model.

What now?

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,

Sincerely,

The Hon. Michael H, Dunkley,

Party Leader

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.

And today we have a press conference which basically stated that, according to the Minister of Finance and the Premier, the additional cost savings agreed on last night, were insufficient.

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…