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BEC Protest Heats Up

Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) employees staged a second round of demonstrations Wednesday, again demanding the resignation or termination of BEC Executive Chairman Leslie Miller.

Irate employees along with Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU) officials blocked the entrance gate of the corporation’s Baillou Hill Road site denying customers, management and labour consultants access to the premises.

A day earlier, workers walked off their jobs for an hour.

The demonstrations were prompted by the recent termination of an employee and the suspension of the union’s chief shop steward over comments he made during an appearance on a radio talk show.

BEWU President Stephano Greene said the demonstrations will continue until the union is satisfied with the government’s response.

In addition to Mr. Miller’s removal, the union also wants an end to the recently installed shift and roster system.

“Tuesday was the final straw when Ms. Cunningham was terminated for no reason and Mr. Edgecombe was suspended, in our opinion, for no reason, this is the final straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Mr. Greene.

“This is a demonstration by our members is to say that enough is enough and that we cannot work with Leslie Miller any more. He is the only chairman that is out there lambasting staff and doing the things that he is doing.”

Since assuming the role of chairman last year, Mr. Miller has taken a tough stance against BEC employees.

He has publicly chastised them about waste and excess and threatened legal action against employees who he accused of defrauding the corporation of millions of dollars in overtime.

The chairman who refuses to cave in to pressure from the union, said Tuesday that he had no plans of resigning.

In fact, Mr. Miller further infuriated employees by calling their action illegal and hinting at possible repercussions against those employees who walked of their jobs.

“As long as you have a trade dispute filed, you can withdraw your labour on that trade dispute,” Mr. Greene said. “We have some 50-plus trade disputes filed against the corporation since the chairman has been here because there are no good industrial relations here. So legally, we may not have a strike vote but we anytime you have a trade dispute, you can withdraw your labour.”

BEC employees were joined by umbrella trade union organisations as a show of solidarity.

The protests reached some tense moments as employees yelled at police officers who were on hand to ensure that the demonstrations remained peaceful.

Meanwhile outside Cabinet Wednesday morning, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Philip Davis, who met with the union Tuesday, defended Mr. Miller, but expressed his hope for a quick resolution to this matter.

“I met with the union [Tuesday evening] and they indicated what their issues were and I have asked them to engage the grievance procedure which is set out in the industrial agreement and once that has been engaged and has run its course it will then reach [the government’s] desk and
I have asked them to expedite it and get results as quickly as possible,” Mr. Davis said.

Melinda Cunningham, a 17-year clerk in BEC’s Customer Services Department, was advised back on March 25 that her contract with the corporation was being terminated without cause.

Union Chief Shop Steward Michael Edgecombe, who has worked at BEC for more than 30 years, was placed on a five-day suspension with half pay Tuesday pending the outcome of an investigation into his appearance on a radio talk show.

The union said actions will continue until those employees are reinstated.

Union officials were scheduled to meet with government representatives Wednesday afternoon; however, the outcome of that meeting is still unknown.

Meanwhile, BEC trying to ease customers’ fears of possible disruption to their services as a result of the action being taken by its employees, said in a statement Wednesday, that it has contingency measures in place to ensure that any action on the part of the union does not severely impact the corporation’s operations.

Further, BEC called the action of the junior employees of the corporation illegal and said it is in breach of the industrial relations agreement and in direct contravention of the labor laws of The Bahamas.

The corporation noted while there are instances when it is at odds with the BEWU, it is still imperative that the union ensures that any action it may be considering is not to the detriment of BEC’s customers and by extension the entire country.

The statement concluded with the corporation reiterating its commitment to working with the BEWU, or any union, in the best interest of its employees, its customers, and the corporation.

Labour Minister Shane Gibson, who sent a press statement spoke about a meeting the government had with BEWU.

“Executives and members of the BEWU are advised that in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act 1970, if any member of the union or Executive Committee of the BEWU contravenes the Industrial Relations Act regarding continued industrial action, they will be subject to penalties as outlined in the Act,” he said.

“Penalties include a fine not exceeding $200 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both such fine and imprisonment and in the case of a union or a member of the executive committee or other governing body of a union, or an employer, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

He continued, “The government is committed to ensuring that members of the public and customers of BEC receive efficient service from the corporation. Further, the government is prepared to work with all stakeholders including the BEWU to ensure that industrial harmony is the order of the day.”

Korvell Pyfrom

Written by Korvell Pyfrom

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