By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
CUSTOMS and Immigrations officers who failed to return to work "will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law", Labour Minister Dion Foulkes said yesterday.
Last Friday, Mr Foulkes officially ended the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) strike by referring their trade dispute to the Industrial Tribunal. He said then that the officers had 24 hours to return to work.
However, three days after the dispute was referred to the Tribunal, customs and immigration officers were still on strike.
"If you read section 76 of the Industrial Relations Act, it is very clear that once the referral is made and I give notice they are to return to work within 24 hours. I did that on Friday, so they were to return to work on Saturday, which they didn't do," Mr Foulkes said.
"I spoke to their lawyer, Obie Ferguson, on Friday and he confirmed to me that he received the letter ending the strike.
"My part of this is done. It is up to the Tribunal now to deal with the legal process in terms of the hearing. They are an independent body.
"I have no influence. It is also up to the Department heads at the immigration and customs to decide what they want to do with these employees.
"They will decide the consequences in accordance with the law. The workers are in breech of the law and can be punished. It is stipulated in the Act."
When contacted, Director of Immigration, Jack Thompson had no comment on the possible consequences, however he said some of the employees have returned to work.
"Some of them have returned. For those who haven't we are working on some things. It is not as easy as you would think. Some of the people who returned to work have sick slips claiming they were sick. Some claim they demonstrated on their days off and some claim they were on vacation. So we are sifting through that now so we can get a true reflection of how many people participated in the strike," Mr Thompson said.
According to the Industrial Relations Act, if within 24 hours of receipt of a notification, any person that fails to discontinue his participation in a strike or lock-out, shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction.
In the case of an employer or employee, the penalty is a fine not exceeding $200, imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both.
In the case of a union or a member of the executive committee or other governing body of a union, or an employer, the penalty is a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.
However, according to Sloane Smith, Vice President of the BCIAWU the minister only sent a letter describing his intention with no proof of an actual referral. He said once evidence is shown confirming the trade dispute has been referred to the Tribunal, they would readily comply.