North American union backs workers at Freeport


Tribune Freeport Reporter


THE International Longshoremen’s Association – the largest union of maritime workers in North America – is supporting the efforts of workers to be unionised at the Freeport Container Port (FCP).

Harold J Daggett, the ILA president, has written to senior officials at FCP demanding they allow dockworkers to freely organise a labour union without interference or coercion.

In a letter dated May 27, Mr Daggett indicated that it has come to his attention that dockworkers, in their efforts to organise a labour union, have been faced with and continue to face resistance and opposition by FCP.

“Allegations have been made that FCP, through its influence in the media, has been negatively portraying the dockworkers to sway public sentiment and dissuade the dockworkers from organising a labour union,” he wrote.

“Allegations have also arisen claiming that FCP is engaging in repressive and intimidating tactics, threatening the dockworkers with retaliation if they persist in organising a labour union.”

The Tribune’s calls for a comment yesterday from the Container Port concerning the letter were not returned. 

The Freeport Container Port is one of the largest ports in the region. Operated by Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), it handles 1.5 million 20-foot long containers (TEUs) per year.

Veteran union activist Lionel Morley and religious leaders in Grand Bahama are supporting the dockworkers, who are again taking steps to form a union to bargain for better wages, permanent job status and a safer work environment.  

It is believed that two-thirds of the 500 container port workers are employed as temporary and part-time labour, with no employee benefits, and Mr Morley – who is assisting the workers – has applied to the Department of Labour for registration of a new trade union, The Longshoremen’s Union, to represent workers at the container port. 

“We have far exceeded the numbers required to apply for determination to give us the right to become the bargaining agent for workers, and to compel management to sit and negotiate with us,” he told The Tribune in April.

He has also claimed that since the late 1990s the workers have been continually denied their fundamental right to join a union and accused management of employing union-busting tactics and intimidating workers. He was also critical of government and its lack of involvement in the matter.

The ILA represents more than 65,000 longshore workers. Mr Daggett said The Bahamas affords the dockworkers the constitutional right to organise and join a labour union without intimidation, interference and threats of retaliation from their employer.

In the letter, he claims: “Freeport Container Port, however, is infringing upon and violating the dockworkers rights by engaging in unconstitutional conduct aimed at ousting any union approval or preference in their ports.

“The ILA recognises the dockworkers’ fundamental right to organise and encourages and supports them in their continued efforts to organise a labour union.  Furthermore, on behalf of the ILA, its members throughout North America and the dockworkers at FCP, I demand that FCP immediately cease its repressive and unwarranted actions and that it allow workers to freely organise a labour union without any further interference or coercion.

Mr Daggett said that he hopes his letter not only encourages proper and lawful action on the part of the FCP and indicates the ILA’s unconditional support in the matter, but that it also serves as a reminder of the need for equal access to the press and for the unbiased reporting of the situation, as it exists, at the ports.

The letter was sent to Lucian Laing, Port Director, Freeport Container Port; Li Ka-shing, Chairman of Hutchison Port Holding Ltd; and Marcia Smith, Operating Manager, Freeport Container Port.


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