Weekly Worker – Week of October 5th, 2020 @BermudaPSU @BUTBermuda @ESTU_BDA @OfficersPrison

Here is a round-up of what’s been happening around the Bermuda unions:

Bermuda Public Services Union

For some reason (I suspect the disruption brought by covid-19) the BPSU has not published it’s quarterly Feedback newsletter since their 2019 Q4 one on December 19th, 2019. Nonetheless, there are some updates on their site worth noting:

  1. When Can I Retire flyer published on October 8th – This flyer provides information for workers about the change of the mandatory retirement age from 65 to 68, and notes who is exempted from this change (basically the uniformed services and teachers).
  2. Extending Employment Beyond Age 68 published on October 8th – This complements the flyer (above) and goes into more detail about the policy change. It provides the background to the change and a short FAQ concerning it.
  3. MOU on Vacation Carryover published on October 9th – This is a copy for workers to be aware of the terms of the MOU agreed between the union concerning a special agreement to carryover vacation days from 2020 into 2021. Due to the disruptions caused by covid-19 workers have not been able to take their vacation time in full and risked losing their vacation days. Basically, it allows for (i) the 60% leave requirement be suspended through 2020; and (ii) the 20 day carry over limit to be suspended through to end of 2021.
  4. A copy of the Public Service Superannuation Amendment Act 2019 – This is the legal underpinning for the extending of the retirement age noted above.

The only other thing worth noting here is that on Friday, October 2nd, the BPSU held an urgent meeting of its membership at Victoria Park (on account of covid-19 precautions) to discuss ‘Government’s austerity measures’.

While the details of this meeting have not been provided, it is likely (based on the subject matter) that it regards the BPSU considering the MOU agreed with Government back in July to have been rendered void by the decision of the uniformed services to reject similar austerity measures – and as such the BPSU would likely be looking to restart talks with the Government concerning this.

It is perhaps worth noting that the vote to accept the austerity measures in July (which included the premise that the MOU would only come into effect if and when all unions agreed to the terms) was a very close vote, with 54% voting to accept the austerity terms and 46% voting to reject them (as per the numbers given in the RG article cited above).

Bermuda Industrial Union

There does not seem to be any news or updates from the BIU this week. Their last issue of the Worker’s Voice uploaded to their website was in August, and the last event or news posted was for the Annual Labour Day Banquet at the end of August.

One of the big issues that the BIU is dealing with at the moment is the closure of the Fairmont Southampton Princess. This closure has led to about 700 workers being laid off – of which about 400 are Bermudians.

Bermuda Union of Teachers

The BUT celebrated World Teachers Day on Monday, October 5th with a ceremony at City Hall, as well as with a video address to Education International.

The BUT’s members are of course now back in the classroom with the new school year, complete with the stresses of teaching during a pandemic involves. Additionally, the re-elected Government will be launching significant school reforms over the next few years, so the BUT will likely be digesting the challenges ahead.

Electrical Supply Trade Union

The ESTU’s website doesn’t have much on it, and their social media accounts have not been updated recently (their Twitter last in May 2015 and their Facebook page last in November 2018).

Nonetheless, the big news for their members is the sale of BELCO/Ascendant to the Canadian company Algonquin was approved on October 7th. What this means for the ESTU remains to be seen.

Bermuda Entertainment Union

The BEU’s website does not seem to have been updated since 2017, however their Facebook page does seem regularly maintained. In September the BEU was featured in the news concerning their hopes to expand their membership before the end of the year.

I am not seeing anything else from the other unions who seem to be lacking much of an online presence at the moment. I will look to cover more going forward.

So Many Times Betrayed – Part II @BermudaPSU

Girl I believe you
Are you losing your mind thinking
What will it take to make somebody listen to you

I Believe You by Fletcher

Continuing my series exploring the issue of sexual harassment, this post continues the review of the BPSU’s report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, written by now Minister Jason Hayward.

Gender Lenses

Having provide a definition of sexual harassment and some general types of it, the report has an interesting section on ‘Gender Lenses’. Essentially, this section notes that perception of sexual harassment (and/or its severity) is often influenced by gender.

“Men and women exhibit vastly different views of the propriety of sex in the workplace. In general, men and women differ concerning the appropriateness of sexual conduct in the workplace; behaviour considered offensive by women may be viewed as harmless by men.”

This is important to note, especially in the current context that has spurred this conversation about sexual harassment. As most, if not all, of the women affected by this appointment (either having previously experienced sexual harassment, or potentially subject to such) are civil servants (and thus restricted in having a voice as the matter relates to political appointments), only one side of the story is being given – all from men, and thus potentially subject to the gender lens/filter raised in the report. Additionally, many of the social media discussion on this largely seems to reflect this gender bias (with the addition that several male commentators feel that women are weaponising sexual harassment claims).

Now, the report cites two studies by:

  1. Gregory, Raymond, F. (2004) Unwelcome and unlawful: sexual harassment in the American workplace. New York, Cornell University Press.
  2. Bannerjee, et al (2011) Gender differences in perception of workplace sexual harassment among future professionals (Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 20(1): 21-4).

Both of these are excellent papers and well worth the read for those interested.

Now, the key takeaways from these papers that the report notes are:

  1. In general men and women diverge greatly on what they would consider offensive sexual harassment (in particular being propositoned by the opposite sex).
  2. In general men blame women for sexual harassment, in the form of saying women are responsible for their harassment in the workplace based on their dress or working in a male dominated space, and so on.
  3. That there is a need for awareness training – especially for men – regarding the full definition and scope of sexual harassment.

These findings are not new, nor are they exceptional. As Bhattacharya & Stockdale (2016) note:

  1. “Men’s attitude toward sexually harassing activities continues to be more tolerant than women’s.”
  2. “Women are more likely than men to define social-sexual behaviour or events to be sexually harassing or rate such events to be more severe, threatening, unwelcome, serious, or harmful…”
  3. “…there is abundant evidence that women tend to be more sensitive than men to SH [sexual harassment] perceptions and that individuals endorsing traditional masculine gender role orientations or sexist attitudes tend to be less sensitive to SH perceptions…”

There are, of course, plenty additional academic studies that basically find the same thing. In general, men are less likely to perceive their behaviours as sexually harassing than the women who are generally the subject of the harassing. And furthermore, men are more likely to blame the victim.

Myself, I was struck by the similarity here with perceptions of racism. As far back as 1981 (and no doubt earlier – see McConahay, et al ‘Has Racism Declined in America? It depends on who is asking and what is asked’), it was recongised that Whites (who generally benefitted from slavery, segregation and ongoing structural racism) are less likely to recognise the continuation of racism beyond the overt ‘old-fashioned’ in your face form of racism.

As our studies demonstrated, whites mainly recognise old-fashioned racism as reflecting racism. Any of their opinions, beliefs, or actions that work to the detriment of blacks are not seen as prejudice; and since most white Americans either do not hold old-fashioned racist beliefs or they feel guilty about the ones they do hold, whites tend to think racism is a thing of the past. Hence, whites perceive the continuing efforts and demands of blacks as unjustified, while blacks see whites’ resistance to these efforts as tangible proof of racism and hypocrisy, and the cycle of conflict continues.”

In general, using the US example again, perceptions on racism remain different depending on whether the perceiver is white or black.

There is a clear gender bias or ‘lens’ in perceptions of sexual harassment.

Internalised Sexism

Not covered in the BPSU report, but something which I think is worth at least mentioning here is the matter of internalised sexism. In this, I am referring to women that have internalised sexist attitudes and help enable the perpetuation of such – in this case either dismissing claims of sexual harassment or blaming the victim.

There are, of course, various aspects of internalised sexism, but the one I’m referring to here is these aspects:

“Defending, justifying, and excusing individual acts of misogyny, mistreatment, and/or abuse, either toward oneself or toward other women.”

“Defending, justifying, and supporting societal, institutional, political, and/or cultural bias and oppression against women (internalized oppression). Blaming women for causing their own victimization.”

This has certainly been on display on some social media conversations concerning the Commissiong controversy, as well as the radio. In this, the women involved have helped support and legitimise the oppression of other women. There are even some women with internalised sexism who will actively seek out sexually harassing behaviour from men, and to that degree dismiss the very real trauma of sexual harassment on other victims.

In some situations, this can be particularly problematic should a woman with such internalised sexism holds a key role of a shop steward in a unionised workplace. This may cause women workers to feel they cannot go to their union for assistance. This is not the case – if you as a worker are in such a situation where you feel your shop steward is compromised, you can and should go directly to the union itself, be it to a Division Vice-President or to the Executive Committee of the union itself.

So Many Times Betrayed – Part I (a series on sexual harassment…) @BermudaPSU

Through this world I stumble
So many times betrayed
Trying to find an honest word
To find the truth enslaved

– From ‘Possession’ by Sarah McLachlan.

The appointment, yesterday, of former MP Rolfe Commissiong to the Senate as the Government Senate Leader as well as the Minister-in-the-Senate as Minister of Community & Sport, has proved to be quite a controversial appointment. Indeed, some might say that the honeymoon period for the re-elected 30-6 Government is over in a remarkably short time.

The reason for this controversy stems to the nature of Senator Commissiong’s decision to not contest the 2020 election, giving way to Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson to run in the constituency so vacated. That decision arose due to the media reporting that Mr. Commissiong had sexually harassed a civil servant. There’s more to that story, however it has (and will likely) be covered elsewhere. What interests me is the resulting national discussion – on social media, radio, offices (particularly in the civil service) and in the street. To be frank, it has prompted a lot of discussion about sexual harassment.

It occurred to me that there would be some utility in exploring this topic, and so here we are.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Minister Jason Hayward, when he was the President of the BPSU, wrote a valuable report on ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’, which will be the subject of my initial posts on this subject. It is well worth reading, and was even featured in Social Justice Bermuda’s initial reaction to this Commissiong Controversy.

This report opens with a definition taken from the Human Rights Act 1981, Section 9(4). I actually think it is worth quoting the relevant Section in its entirety:

9 – Sexual Harassment Prohibited

  1. No person shall abuse any position or authority which he occupies in relation to any other person employed by him or by any concern which employs both of such persons, for the purpose of harassing that other person sexually.
  2. A person who occupies accommodation has a right to freedom from sexual harassment by the landlord, or by an agent of the landlord, or by an occupant of the same building.
  3. A person who is an employee has a right to freedom in his workplace from sexual harassment by his employer, or by an agent of his employer, or by a fellow employee, and an employer shall take such action as is reasonably necessary to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur in the workplace.
  4. For the purposes of this section, a person harasses another sexually if he engages in sexual comment or sexual conduct towards that other which is vexatious and which he knows, or ought to know, is unwelcome.

Whether section 4, as regards ‘the employer’, refers in the case of Mr. Commissiong when the incident occurred, applies to the Premier, the Speaker or ‘the people’ is an interesting question. However, I digress…

The report itself opens with the following comment on sexual harassment:

“Sexual harassment is a hazard encountered in workplaces across the world that reduces the quality of working life, jeopardises the well-being of women and men, undermines gender equality and imposes costs on businesses and organisations.”

The report also provides a more detailed description of sexual harassment from the ILO:

“…any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, request for sexual favours, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature; or other behaviour or a sexual nature that makes the recipient feel humiliated, offended and/or intimidated, where such reaction is reasonable in the situation and condition; or made into working requirement or create an intimidating hostile or inappropriate working environment.” – ILO (2011) Guidelines on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace. [Page 5]

The BPSU report then cites the different types of sexual harassment identified in the 2011 ILO Guidelines [page 7], which are worth copying here too:

  1. Physical Harassment – unwelcomed touching in a sexual manner such as kissing, patting, pinching, glancing or staring lustfully.
  2. Verbal Harassment – unwelcomed comments about private life, body parts or a person’s appearance, sexually suggestive jokes and comments.
  3. Gestural Harassment – sexually suggestive body language and/or gestures, repeated winks, gestures with fingers, and licking lips.
  4. Written or Graphic Harassment – display of pornographic materials, sexually explicit pictures, screensavers or posters, or harassment via emails and other modes of electronic communication.
  5. Psychological/Emotional Harassment – persistent proposals and unwelcomed requests, unwanted invitations to go out on dates, insults, taunts or innuendo of a sexual nature.

As noted in the report, the above is not exhaustive…

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 hereBPSU 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. 🙂

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.

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 – with 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 – although 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…