By EARYEL BOWLEG
MEMBERS of the Bahamas Utilities Services and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU) will continue their strike despite being notified by Labour Minister Dion Foulkes that he has referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal.
WSC officials said workers participating in the “illegal strike” will have their pay docked.
According to the Industrial Relations Act, workers must cease participation in a strike or lock-out within 24 hours of being notified of a referral to the tribunal in writing. If not, they can be guilty of an offence and face penalties such as a $200 fine or three months in jail time.
BUSAWU President Dwayne Woods said his members, along with the Water and Sewage Management Union (WSMU), are “appalled” at Mr Foulkes’ behaviour and viewed the action as a “blatant attack” on their civic rights as workers. BUSAWU sought after legal advice from attorney and trade unionist Obie Ferguson to deal with the matter.
Mr Ferguson referenced Section 77 of the IRA, which notes that strikes should not happen or be called by unions in consequence of a trade dispute while proceedings taken in relation to that dispute are pending before the Industrial Tribunal. As there is no action in front of the tribunal presently, the attorney insisted the union was acting properly.
“Dion is just like me or anybody else,” Mr Ferguson said. “He don’t have the capacity. Not the capacity to tell you must go back to work tomorrow. Only the court can do that. He has no jurisdiction. He has no legal authority.
“I told the director of labour the other day, he said ‘Well, I’m the director of labour.’ I said, ‘But your job is administrative. You can’t be ordering these unions to do all these things because you make them up.’”
Mr Ferguson encouraged the union members to “stand firm” and to support their president. He advised them not to listen to WSC Executive Chairman Adrian Gibson and called for the support of all unions. Bishop Simeon Hall was also present, calling both sides to meet and “find a way to ameliorate this problem”.
Mr Woods once again called for Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to step in. “We beg the prime minister once again to deal with these callous statements that are being made because they have grave concerns to workers,” Mr Woods said. “When you make these type of accusations, that you gone do this and do that to the people, we regard that as an abuse to workers.”
Across the street, the corporation held its own press conference where Mr Gibson noted the union’s strike was considered illegal. He said workers who participated - some 40 of them - will have their pay docked as a result.
Mr Gibson said WSC will move to the tribunal to settle the dispute. WSC also awaits a determination of the Supreme Court on the issue of who is the legitimate WSMU president.
Mr Woods has called for Mr Gibson’s removal, as he questioned his ability to manage the corporation.
Yesterday Mr Gibson said he is doing his best to advance and reform the corporation, but added he serves at the pleasure of the prime minister.