About 50 BIU members protested outside KFC after the restaurant's management announced it was ending the collective bargaining agreement. *Photo by Raymond Hainey
About 50 BIU members protested outside KFC after the restaurant's management announced it was ending the collective bargaining agreement. *Photo by Raymond Hainey

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 21: Trade union members yesterday picketed the KFC in Hamilton after management reportedly announced it was scrapping the collective bargaining agreement.

BIU president Chris Furbert said the move would mean slashed holiday entitlement and cuts to the amount of paid sickness leave.

He added that workers’ pension contributions – which had gone to the hotel pensions association – would now be sent elsewhere.

Mr Furbert was speaking as he led around 50 members to the fast food outlet in Hamilton’s Queen Street, where they staged a half-hour protest.

Mr Furbert accused KFC management – and other firms – of attempting to take advantage of the recession to “roll back hard-won workers’ rights.”

He added: “It’s very disturbing that this employer has chosen to cancel the collective bargaining agreement.

“Let me make this clear – an employer cannot cancel an agreement. The law clearly states that once a union receives recognition, the only people who can change an agreement are the workers.”

Mr Furbert and members, including the union’s General Council, staged the protest after a meeting at the BIU’s Hamilton HQ.

He said that – despite negotiations with the union stretching back months – KFC bosses had written to workers last week to say that the current agreement was no longer in force.

Mr Furbert said the only guarantees the 15 full-time and 21 part-time staff at KFC got was that their hourly rate and current health insurance would not change.

He added: “That tells me that everything else we have there is going to change. Workers now come under the Employment Act of 2000, which means two weeks vacation time. If someone has four weeks holiday time, they’ll go back to two.”

He said: “That Mr  Furbert said: “For the directors of KFC to cancel that agreement as of last Friday, they have completely violated the law. “We will not allow an employer to cancel agreements, particularly agreements we have built up over 10, 20 30, 40 years. It will happen over my dead body.”

Mr Furbert added that – although the union and KFC management had deadlocked – the matter should have been referred to arbitration.

He said: “They have chosen to totally hijack that and go back to their employees and say ‘we’re cancelling your rights’ – I just want the workers at KFC to know the BIU General Council has their backs.”

Mr Furbert said the union had contacted Government’s labour relations department and that officials would be holding talks with KFC management.

Passing cars honked their horns in support as union members sang “we shall overcome” outside KFC in a peaceful demo that lasted around half an hour.

Mr Furbert, who shook hands with one woman KFC worker who came out of the restaurant to express her support, stopped short of calling for a boycott of KFC until the row is resolved.

And he declined to comment on whether the unrest could escalate into strike action, saying “I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that, but I wouldn’t comment on that.

He said: “What I would suggest is that the public should make up its own mind about this, recognizing we have a difference of opinion over what the employer wants and what we think.

“It’s about trying to protect the rights of workers at KFC. What the employers have done is take away those rights. We have members inside that restaurant. What we want is to get the management to see what they have done is totally wrong.

“Companies are saying they want to continue to pay dividends to shareholders, but cut back on workers’ rights – that’s union-busting.”

The Bermuda Sun contacted KFC bosses for comment yesterday, but no one had responded by press time.