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Minister: Customs Can’t Strike

A strike vote taken by members of the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) is now null and because Labour Minister Shane Minister has referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal.

According to union rules once the minister of labour transfers incidents like these to the Industrial Tribunal no action could be taken.

Customs workers are protesting a number of issues, specifically a new shift system and monies they say are owed to them.

“I don’t know about the strike vote in any case because [Monday] I referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal,” Minister of Labour Shane Gibson told reporters yesterday.

“Once a matter is referred to the tribunal, all industrial action must cease so they took the strike vote on Friday but it has no effect. All they need to do is come, sit down and let’s find out what’s best for all customs and immigration workers. They have a membership of 1,058 and had less than 200 people participated in the strike vote. Do you think they had support?”

The union recently lost a court battle to have its shift system overturned but has refused to work the controversial shift system.

During a press conference recently, then Acting Minister of Labour V. Alfred Gray issued a warning to union members telling them that if there was any refusal or failure to report to their assigned shifts, these actions would be viewed as a breach of their employment.

“They have a right to take a strike vote,” Minister Gibson said.

“That is a part of the law. I take no objection to that. The vice president of the union announced that they were taking industrial action so what am I supposed to do? Crawl up in a corner and say take your industrial action I’m going away and when you’re done I’ll come back? You cannot announce to me and threaten me with action and expect me to do nothing. I would be irresponsible as a minister if I did nothing.”

Minister Gibson said once industrial action is announced by any union, he has an obligation to “adequately prepare for it.”

“The basic principle of employment is that if you don’t work you don’t get paid,” he said.

“I’m not going to force you to work because the law says you can strike once you go through the process of getting a strike certificate. Once you stop working then we stop paying and we will be swift with it so those officers who showed up at 9:00 p.m. when they were supposed to show up at 4:00 p.m. did not work in my view. Their pay will be cut right away, as soon as we can get it cut.”

The labour minister said when the government came to office in 2012, there were 12 outstanding industrial agreements.

“We have signed all except one,” Minister Gibson said.

“The only one outstanding is customs and immigration because they are being unreasonable. Are we being unreasonable or are they being unreasonable? All we say to them is that the country is experiencing financial difficulties at this time. You have to be responsible with what you’re asking for and what you expect to get. We were negotiating with them and asked to work out a formula and they disagreed. They took the matter to court to decide if overtime is part of wages and the court ruled against them and they then told the members that the court ruled for them so they mislead their members.”

BCIAWU Vice President Sloan Smith told the Bahama Journal on Friday that the shift system must remain in place until the court says otherwise, but he said the union is not challenging the court’s ruling.

“We are in no position to question anything the court does but what we have in fact is a trade dispute that has led to where we are today,” he said at the time.

“What is contained in that ruling is clear; we don’t question that, what we have to do in terms of appeals that will be happening.”

He also addressed the government’s notion that the union lost the case.

“Everybody is saying that from the government side we lost the court case,” Mr. Smith said. “That’s their contention but my president correctly asked the question, if we’ve lost the case, why has the judge ordered us back to court to conclude some of the matters?” he said.

“Look at the rulings. We’re not going to get caught up in that.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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