Court orders Bahamas unions back to work
After a day-long strike by several affiliates of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in The Bahamas on Wednesday, the government obtained an injunction preventing those unions from any further industrial action.
Director of Labour Robert Farquharson told The Nassau Guardian that Minister of Labour Shane Gibson obtained the injunction from Acting Supreme Court Judge Ian Winder.
The injunction orders the Bahamas Nurses Union, the Bahamas Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) and the Bahamas Educators Managerial Union to “cease and desist from taking part in any industrial action until their matters are heard by the Industrial Tribunal”.
The injunction also orders them to return to work immediately, and to return to their place of work at the time they are scheduled to work, and to work while they are at work.
The industrial action came as the TUC continued to push the government to address its affiliates’ outstanding concerns.
TUC president Obie Ferguson told The Nassau Guardian on Wednesday night that he had not seen the injunction.
“I have not seen the injunction and therefore the strike continues,” he said. “Only an injunction can stop a strike.”
Earlier in the day, more than 50 customs and immigration officers demonstrated in front of Customs House around 9 am.
BCIAWU vice president Sloane Smith said the government has failed to resolve issues such as overtime, medical coverage, promotions and other benefits.
“We have had three national insurance increases in the past year or two and the salary remains unchanged,” Smith said.
“The government sits with us and says whatever one organization gets, the others are going to get.
“But when you evaluate what the other organization got (the Bahamas Public Service Union), it amounted to $1.67 a month.
“Are you asking these people, these professionals who have families to absorb the loss that comes with that?”
Comptroller of Customs Charles Turner said the industrial action did not impact operations.
Turner said the department anticipated the union would strike and executed a contingency plan to ensure there were sufficient officers to man the ports.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen nurses gathered at their union’s office.
They were joined by Ferguson, who spoke with the media before heading to the customs and immigration officers.
He said no matter what government officials say the unions’ actions are legal.
Ferguson said the unions will not let up until their matters are resolved.
“We had a poll. The nurses voted. The minister (of labour) signed the certificate and the certificate was issued,” said the TUC president, who made those comments before the government secured the injunction.
“[A] strike in The Bahamas is legal. What is illegal about a strike is if it was done contrary to the law.
“…Don’t give the impression that responsible officers in this union — nurses, who are responsible people in this community, would participate in an illegal strike.”
Bahamas Nurses Union president Jannah Khalfani said she and her members are “sick and tired” of talking about their concerns.
The issues include shifts, payments and liability insurance coverage, according to Khalfani.
“The public knows that we are not asking for anything unreasonable,” she said. “We are only asking for what ought to have happened a long time ago.”
There are around 1,000 unionized nurses.
Ferguson also said droves of employees on Grand Bahama were demonstrating since 6 am.
Although executives of the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU) at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in New Providence said they have more than 300 members, only a few demonstrated in front of the hotel on West Bay Street on Wednesday.
BHMAWU president Lynden Taylor said while his union has a strike certificate, a conservative order prevents the union from striking.
The union is demanding that 12 executives and three other employees terminated in 2008 be reinstated.
Outside the Water and Sewerage Corporation, more than 30 employees demonstrated on their lunch break around 1 pm.
Ednel Rolle, president of the Water and Sewerage Management Union, expressed concerns about the union’s pension and promotions.
In the foyer of the House of Assembly, Gibson said he was disheartened by the industrial action.
He said some nurses walked off the job at 5 am, forcing at least two clinics on Eleuthera to close.
Gibson said the trade disputes filed by the various unions were referred to the Industrial Tribunal, making the strike illegal.
He said employees were misled by their respective union leaders, leaving them exposed to “action by their employers”.
As it relates to the impact of the strike, Gibson said there was some impact on Wednesday, but all government departments and agencies functioned.
“Hopefully those union members, who didn’t realize until now that they are on an illegal strike simply because those matters were referred to the Industrial Tribunal, should immediately return to work,” Gibson said.
“I would encourage them to do that before it really gets out of hand.”
But Ferguson insisted the unions followed due course and obtained strike certificates.
In response, Gibson said the Ministry of Labour is obliged to observe strike votes and issue strike certificates.
However, he referenced Section 77 of the Industrial Relations Act, which notes that “no employee shall go on strike and no employer shall declare a lock-out, and no union or member of the executive committee or other governing body of a union shall call a strike or declare a lock-out in consequence of a trade dispute while proceedings taken in relation to that dispute are pending before the [Industrial] Tribunal or the Court of Appeal”.
Gibson added, “For members who are being told that they can still strike even though the matters have been referred, they are being misled.”
Despite forwarding the matters to the Industrial Tribunal, Gibson invited the executives of the TUC and its affiliates to discuss the matters to “see how we can resolve these issues and put them behind us”.
He said he hoped “cool heads will prevail”.