Atlantis workers protest on Wednesday.
OPPOSITION Senator Fred Mitchell yesterday questioned why police blocked protestors from walking over the Sidney Poitier Bridge on Wednesday and decried officers being armed with “assault weapons” at a “peaceful” demonstration.
He spoke a day after scores of Atlantis workers protested for severance pay from the resort. The employees have not worked since March after the resort closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yesterday, I observed as opposition spokesman for labour, the demonstration by Atlantis employees for the monies owed under the redundancy laws,” Mr Mitchell said at a press conference.
“This was not a PLP demonstration, but as the shadow minister I was tasked by the leader of the party to ensure that the rights of the demonstrators were protected and they were free to exercise the right of peaceful protest.
“I expressed my concerns by phone to the Attorney General about the fact that the bridge was closed to access by the protestors, even though any pedestrian is normally free to cross the bridge.
“Secondly, while I have no quarrel with police presence, I am again concerned about officers showing up with assault weapons in the face of a peaceful demonstration and no viable evidence of non-lethal methods of crowd control.
“It is ironic that the FNM authorities have now got themselves into a bind of hypocrisy again since they in their history led at least two demonstrations on the Paradise Island bridge, one of which was actively encouraged and supported by the now Prime Minister when he was leader of the opposition. Now it appears they have forgotten all that.
“Had the FNM authorities allowed the peaceful march across the bridge, they would not have had videos on Bay Street chanting ‘Minnis got to go!’”
Mr Mitchell noted that one person, who he said started the chant, was arrested.
“This raises the issue of the tensions in this society because of the management of this pandemic by Dr Hubert Minnis.
“Unfortunately, the normal institutions to deal with this thing like the House, the Senate and the courts no longer seem to be available to ordinary men and women as a means of redress and peaceful dissent is being suppressed.
“Over my objections today, the Senate again adjourned sine die without conducting any business for which it was convened and without a fixed date to resume.
“I have in my hand the copy of an action filed in the courts on August 14 and although it is ex parte, no judge has been assigned to hear it. The question then is, when the vendors at Arawak Cay say they need redress from the courts because of unconstitutional discrimination and they cannot get a date in court, what are they to do?
“The Atlantis workers are in the streets because they are left with no choice.”
The government has suspended the Employment Act provisions that mandate employers must pay full severance/redundancy to workers who have been furloughed, or sent home, after 90 days/13 weeks or otherwise recall them to work.
This provision is suspended until 30 days after the government’s COVID-19 emergency powers orders —currently in effect until the end of October— cease.