By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
STAFF at the Water and Sewerage Corporation have been ordered to return to work until the country’s top judge rules on whether union members have a right to strike.
Dwayne Woods, president of the Bahamas Utilities and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU), said Chief Justice Brian Moree has granted a “temporary injunction” until the last week of this month, at which time he will “hear both sides” on the issue of whether the union’s strike is permissible.
It is the latest in the BUSAWU’s, as well as the Water and Sewerage Management Union’s (WSMU), ongoing stand-off with WSC Executive Chairman Adrian Gibson and corporation executives over the latter’s alleged failure to address the unions’ outstanding issues.
Last Tuesday, BUSAWU and WSMU conducted a joint strike, as they called from Mr Gibson’s removal and for the corporation’s executives to meet with both unions to address their grievances.
At the time, Mr Woods said both unions would engage in a “full strike from Bimini to Inagua” until their issues have been addressed.
WSMU president Ednel Rolle, meanwhile, added that the unions were forced to exercise a strike certificate after allegedly being bullied by Mr Gibson. WSMU also outlined recent experiences which “affirm” complaints made by the line staff concerning a lack of due process.
Those include WSC’s alleged “refusal to recognise the WSMU executive team; due process as it relates to termination; allegations of wastage and abuse of WSC financial resources; staffing and the impact on the public.” Mr Rolle is in a legal dispute over whether he is the true president of the union.
According to Mr Woods, BUSAWU did not meet with the chairman last week. He said instead, corporation executives “put a false meeting out,” where they sent in the deputy general manager and two other employees who could not “answer any questions” or “resolve any issues.”
Mr Woods said last week that both unions are calling on Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to do the “honourable thing” and remove Mr Gibson so that the unions can be taken “out of Egypt.”
BUSAWU was notified by Labour Minister Dion Foulkes last week that he had referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal in a move to end the strike. WSC subsequently said that workers participating in the “illegal strike” would 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.
Mr Woods consequently said his members, along with WSMU, were “appalled” at Mr Foulkes’ behaviour and viewed the action as a “blatant attack” on their civic rights as workers. BUSAWU sought legal advice from attorney and trade unionist Obie Ferguson to deal with the matter.
Yesterday, Mr Woods said BUSAWU “refuses” to go to the Industrial Tribunal for relief. Instead, he said the union filed a judicial review in the Supreme Court on Thursday. He said the corporation, in turn, went and sought an ex parte injunction against the union.
Mr Woods said BUSAWU and Mr Ferguson appeared before Chief Justice Moree on Friday, who refused to grant WSC the ex parte injunction it sought. However, Mr Woods said the top judge called both sides in court to hear their respective skeleton arguments.
After having heard those submissions, Chief Justice Moree adjourned the matter to February 24, at which time he will hear both sides and rule on whether the union has the right to remain on strike and whether it is a threat to the public interest. If not, Mr Woods said, BUSAWU will “continue the strike”.
“The temporary injunction is that we return to work until such time as the Supreme Court could (deliberate) on whether we have a right to strike or whether we are indeed a threat to the public,” Mr Woods told The Tribune.
“So I have no doubts in my mind that the voices of the people will be heard and against that backdrop we will return to work until justice is able to rule in our favour. And I speak with authority because I speak in the name of Jesus.”