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Customs Staff End Strike Ahead Of Tribunal

By DANA SMITH

dsmith@tribunemedia.net

THE Customs and Immigration strike ends today and their trade dispute will be heard and tried before the Industrial Tribunal this week, according to their attorney.

photo

Dion Foulkes

The Bahamas Customs, Immigration, and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) has been supporting a lengthy strike by customs and immigration officers over long-standing issues including salary and regulated shift hours.

Lawyer Obie Ferguson, who represented the union during their strike, announced yesterday it was "a very special day" for customs and immigration officers.

He said he received the official Tribunal referral yesterday and will submit the union's issues before the Tribunal today. This will start a two-day trial, which begins tomorrow and ends Friday.

Mr Ferguson said there "very well may be" a final ruling on Friday.

"We took the position, very clearly, that until all matters are done correctly, pursuant to the law, we will not be moved," he said. "I also indicated this is a matter of urgency, this is a matter of priority, and in the interest of this union and the workers... it was important that it be given urgent attention."

He explained the Tribunal is presently working on cases from 2009-2010 meaning if they "just agreed for the matter to be filed" it could take as long as 2015 or 2016 until their case was heard.

"As a result of the resolute position of this union, the officers, and the clerical workers, we are now being asked to submit by the 18th of this month our (legal documents)," Mr Ferguson said.

"The 19th and the 20th are the days set for trial. So within this week, it is expected that the burning issues affecting customs and immigrations will be adjudicated in the Tribunal, so I am very satisfied."

Because customs and immigration officers and clerical workers have been "given the attention they deserve," he added: "We feel that in the interest of the workers, first and foremost, and in the interests of our country, customs and immigration officers will be advised to resume their regular shift duties as of (today)."

Mr Ferguson said he's "terribly elated" and told the BCIAWU they have "changed the mode of operation" in the country.

"This is the very first time in the history of the industrial court, to my knowledge, that a group of people ever was able to cause their matter to be fast tracked," he said.

BCIAWU vice president, Sloane Smith also spoke yesterday and told the press: "We will be returning to work... and we're going to do it in accordance with the law.

"We're not doing it because somebody felt they had some kind of ability to demand that we return to work. We're doing it because the law says that once that matter commences before the Tribunal, we cannot be out on strike."

Mr Smith also said he's "not in the least" concerned about reported pay-cuts stemming from officers continuing to strike three days after Labour Minister Dion Foulkes announced he referred the matter to the Tribunal.

At the time, the union stated they wanted official documentation to prove the matter had been referred. They said they received from the Minister only a letter describing his intentions.

"True to our word - like we said, once we have the official documents in hand we're going to work," Mr Smith said.

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