PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
SENATOR Fred Mitchell yesterday accused the government of negligence and dishonesty in its handling of trade disputes with public sector unions.
The opposition spokesman on labour said former Progressive Liberal Party administrations, in successive terms, have briefed public sector unions on the state of the economy in meetings with government officials, the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank.
“(The government) said they briefed the unions and claimed this was the first time this was done, that is absolutely false. It’s an invention to cover up their negligence and their dishonesty because the Ministry of Finance officials and minister of finance, the public service minister all knew, and the minister of labour, they all knew or ought to have known that the contract between the Bahamas Public Service Union and the government expired some time ago. Therefore a prudent Ministry of Finance, or minister that knew what he was doing, would have ensured the government would have set aside provisions.”
Mr Mitchell continued: “Instead they are trying to spin a narrative to blame unions for not advancing financial proposals. They did but could get no answer. It was only then they went to the PM who then advanced the financial information we now see before us.
“It’s an act of negligence but also an act of dishonesty. They were trying to fool the public and international agencies about the true state of the finances of the country.”
Mr Mitchell also called on Labour Minister Dion Foulkes to review the conduct of Labour Director John Pinder, citing concerns levelled by two unions currently engaged in trade disputes with the government.
He pointed to an on-air spat between Mr Pinder and BPSU leader Kimsley Ferguson, and recent comments made by Bahamas Doctors Union President Dr Melisande Bassett.
Yesterday Mr Pinder said he called in to a local radio show, of which Mr Ferguson was a guest, to clarify a statement made about him. He shrugged off criticisms leveled by Mr Mitchell, and underscored any benefits won by the BPSU would trickle down to him as a public servant.
Mr Pinder, former BPSU president, said: “When I negotiated for the unions I couldn’t get anything, I was getting paid by the union. So I will never try to get the minimum. The more money the public services get, I get, it will be trickled down to the general public service.”
As for the BDU, Dr Bassett told the Nassau Guardian she felt ambushed by the presence of Ministry of Health and Public Hospitals Authority officials at a meeting arranged by Mr Pinder on Friday. The BDU president said she was told the meeting with Mr Pinder was to exchange information ahead of talks with both parties scheduled for today.
Mr Pinder said he was only seeking to achieve a resolution in the shortest possible timeframe, adding that he apologised for this interpretation.
“I don’t regard it as being ambushed,” Mr Pinder said. “A meeting was scheduled for them to meet this coming Monday, but because the service at PMH got so bad I thought it was wise to meet as early as Friday to see if we could get doctors back to work.
“I can’t conclude that matter on my own. I need both sides to meet to agree to what is owed, and a payment schedule to get them back to work. I am of the view it could have been resolved on Friday. The PHA is admitting they owe. I just want to remediate between both sides to agree to the amount and a schedule of payment.”
Mr Pinder said: “Maybe I should have (told Dr Basset), I was trying to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. I apologise if she felt I ambushed her. But it could not have been ambush, for something to be ambush you have to be on a course and someone take it off course.”