FRIDAY, DEC. 28: Union chief Kevin Grant has thrown his weight behind OBA plans for an economic forum involving Government, business and trades unions.

Mr Grant, head of the white-collar Bermuda Public Services Union, said: “We want to get to it right now — it’s not time to be dilly-dallying around. People have voted for change and we do live in a democratic society.”

But Mr Grant added: “In any negotiations we do, there needs to be a rapport established. Each group has its own agenda – we have some serious issues we need to look at and that the OBA has been looking at. I would congratulate the OBA, but right away it’s time to do some work. The people who are in charge will find their hands full immediately because of the economic conditions we are in.”

Mr Grant added that he had asked BPSU General Secretary Ed Ball to contact the new Government to initiate talks.

Job security

He said: “We want to keep job security in the workplace, that’s the height of my members’ concerns. Austerity doesn’t work and I hope they deal with things differently.”

Mr Grant was speaking after new Home Affairs Minister Senator Michael Fahy pledged to extend an olive branch to trade unions and work with them to pull the island out of the slump. Sen. Fahy, whose role includes immigration and labour relations, said the island needed to balance work permit policy with “making sure that Bermudians and their positions are protected and that they are given every opportunity possible in the workplace”.

Mr Fahy added: “We have a lot of work to do and trust to build and we are confident we can do that.”

The OBA has already said that it will reduce the size of the Civil Service by attrition — non-replacement of retirees and leaving non-essential jobs vacant as people move on.

Mr Grant said that the Public Services International group had quoted UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Finance, as saying that his Conservative/Liberal Democrat austerity programme, which involved huge public service cutbacks, had failed. Mr Grant added: “He said austerity doesn’t work. Lots of things were expected from the austerity measures they put in place, but they didn’t hit any of their targets.

“We have to throw away all of the personalities and emotions. When a new Government comes in, that has to be put aside.

“It’s time to get down to work and it’s long overdue that we address some of these issues which will get the country on its feet.

“If the OBA is thinking about this economic forum, it’s a step in the right direction. The more we can get the stakeholders talking, the more we can act in a collaborative manner. The economy, education and employment all need to be addressed.”

Mr Grant said: “I will give the former PLP Government credit where credit is due because they did make an effort to stay away from these strict austerity measures we’ve seen elsewhere in the world. They wanted to reduce costs, but not cut back on jobs.

“It’s not workers not working which is going to save this country — it’s workers working. We need job creation and they have said they will create 2,000 jobs and that’s good news for me.

“Unions are for jobs. I think it’s going to be interesting going down the road. The OBA has said a lot of things, but you have to understand the underlying interests of anyone you negotiate with.”

“But improving public services and quality public services need to be a staple in Government. Government is a service industry and it should be a quality service.

“To do that, they need adequate services and adequate pay.”

Mr Grant added that experience elsewhere had shown that poorly-paid public servants increased the risk of corruption — a risk that was easily avoided.

Mr Grant added that he appreciated the role that international business played in the Bermuda economy and that the sector had choices on where it was based.

But he said: “We need another leg – I don’t think we can throw all our eggs in one basket. We can’t stand on one leg. Tourism is there, but it isn’t as good as it used to be.”