Thursday, February 13, 2020
By EARYEL BOWLEG
WATER and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) workers will have to go back to work as Labour Minister Dion Foulkes has referred their strike action to the Industrial Tribunal, saying the issue has “threatened the public interest”.
The referral came as armed Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers and police were assigned to guard WSC sites against “acts of sabotage,” company officials said.
In press statement sent yesterday, Mr Foulkes explained: “Pursuant to Section 76 of the Industrial Relations Act, I have considered that the strike action taken as a result of strike certificates issued on the 23rd April, 2019 relative to trade disputes filed on the 2nd of November, 2018 and the 25th of March, 2019 by the Bahamas Utilities Services & Allied Workers Union and the Water and Sewerage Management Union, has threatened the public interest. I have, therefore, referred the disputes which have given rise to the strike actions to the Industrial Tribunal.”
Section 76 of the law allows a minister to refer a dispute to the Industrial Tribunal if the strike or lock-out taking place does not breach Section 74 or 75 and the minister considers that the public interest is affected or threatened. The section stipulates that parties should be notified by writing and any person participating in the strike or lock-out should discontinue. If persons to do not cease strike action within 24 hours of being notified, they can be found guilty of an offence and face penalties such as a $200 fine or three months in jail.
Before Mr Foulkes’ statement was issued, about dozens of WSC workers assembled outside the corporation’s headquarters on day two of their strike.
Montgomery Miller, the ‘elected’ President of the Water and Sewerage Management Union (WSMU), accused WSC Executive Chairman Adrian Gibson of creating “chaos” and “discord” within the union and gave him until Friday to sign the union’s industrial agreement. He also claimed WSC’s general manager avoided him recently.
“We together went to pay a visit to the general manager, he avoided us,” Mr Miller said at a press conference. “He said on the telephone, and I’d dare say he had called 911, to speak with the chairman who in writing has said he himself is not the person who involves himself in the matter of the corporate, those are for the executive team. However, the executive team is not in any way engaging with the executives of this Water and Sewerage Management Union.”
Mr Miller’s claims of being the elected WSMU president has caused some confusion, as Ednel Rolle maintains he is president of the union despite Mr Miller showing what he claimed to be a valid certificate of the election of officers showing that he won the position unopposed on November 22, 2019.
The confusion came because the Ministry of Labour and Director of Labour John Pinder, who is also the registrar of trade unions, had set a date for nominations and supervising an election of WSMU executives and officers on November 22, 2019, without the union’s consent. WSMU brought the matter to the Supreme Court arguing that this breaches the Industrial Relations Act and the union’s constitution. The matter is still ongoing.
Yet, there was no tension between the two men and they both expressed a mutual feeling about the unfair treatment of workers and stalling from WSC executives on the union’s industrial agreement.
Bahamas Utilities Service and Allied Workers Union President Dwayne Woods took issue with the armed officers at WSC sites, saying they were carrying M16s and AK47s.
Mr Woods said this action was “indicative” of what the union is facing with corporation executives.
“We can’t come to work and demonstrate in a peaceful manner that we have to have the defence force with all of its gun and artillery pointed at us – something is drastically wrong,” Mr Woods said.
“We demonstrating peacefully and we don’t condone wrongdoing and nor will we ever attempt to sabotage or go the wrong way in damaging the infrastructure of the company. We see that type of behaviour as treason to the government.
“So we want to say and make it clear to the executive chairman and the general manager that at no time we plan to sabotage your infrastructure and at no time do we want to be treated inhuman with coming to the work place with guns pointed at us,” he said.