FRIDAY, JUNE 1: The fried chicken war heated up last night after Government took KFC to court in a long-running dispute over workers’ contracts.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Patrice Minors said she took the step to stop KFC from taking actions which could compromise a Labour Disputes Tribunal, which is set to rule on the row between KFC and the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU).
Ms Minors said: “Last week, I formally requested that both parties act in good faith and both desist from taking any further action pending the decision of the arbitrators for the sake of good industrial relations and in accordance with the spirit of the legislation. I defined further action as changes to employment contracts, changes to terms and conditions of employment, boycotts and other forms of industrial action.”
Ms Minors said the BIU had responded by calling off its boycott of the Hamilton restaurant.
But she added that KFC management had written to labour relations officers to tell them that “as a matter of practicality” the firm “cannot accommodate the Minister’s request to refrain from implementing changes to employment contracts.”
Ms Minors said: “KFC’s actions serve to undermine the arbitration process and notwithstanding the company’s need to operate efficiently, it is important that the Government take the necessary steps to preserve the integrity of the process. It is imperative that both management and the union work with us in the furtherance of an atmosphere of mutual cooperation, confidence and respect for this process. Our aim is to ensure an amicable settlement of this dispute.”
The row broke out because KFC management wanted to re-negotiate the collective bargaining agreement, which the BIU feared would lead to a loss of workers’ rights.
Meanwhile, the BIU has called an emergency meeting today amid fears of job losses at the fast food restaurant on Queen Street. The meeting, which starts at 8am and is scheduled to run for two hours, is likely to lead to disruption to public transport, the Post Office, trash collection and other unionized areas.
KFC Bermuda (KFCB) says its position had been misrepresented by both the BIU and Bermuda Trades Union Congress.
A letter from the firm said: “KFCB has not ‘agreed’ to have outstanding issues with the BIU settled via binding arbitration.
“An agreement should be just that – a contract where the contents have been agreed between the parties.”
The letter added: “A contract unwillingly imposed by a third party is not by any reasonable definition — it’s just an imposed contract.” The firm also dismissed trades union claims that a new subsidiary of the firm KFC Operations Ltd was part of a strategy to “terminate an existing collective bargaining agreement.”
The letter added that it had also won leave to seek a judicial review of the Minister’s decision to go to arbitration — including a stay on any arbitration hearings. The firm also said that “a majority” of KFC employees to accept new statements of employment with the new subsidiary.