African drummers and dancers, Gombeys and majorettes, were among the performers at Monday&rsquo;s Labour Day festivities at Union Square. <em>*Photo by Amanda Dale</em><br />
African drummers and dancers, Gombeys and majorettes, were among the performers at Monday’s Labour Day festivities at Union Square. *Photo by Amanda Dale
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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: Government ministers have urged unions to put egos aside and to seek common ground as Bermuda fights the worst recession since the 1990s.

Conciliation — putting aside our differences and uniting for the good of the country — was the key message from Premier Paula Cox and Kim Wilson, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, at the Labour Day celebrations.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of Labour Day in Bermuda and the Premier paid tribute to workers’ “blood, sweat and tears”.

Speaking in Union Square ahead of the annual Labour Day March, Ms Cox said the general strike of 1981 had “demonstrated the awesome power of the combined trade union movement”.

Responsibility

But she warned: “With power comes responsibility.”

The challenge now was to “harness the power of the labour movement to support our economy and our people”.

“When the rules of engagement change, we have to be savvy enough to realize it and be prepared to change our game,” said Ms Cox.

“Fighting for the sake of fighting is not productive and it’s not smart.

“Let’s not waste an opportunity to be game changers.”

The people of Bermuda expected their Government and trade union representatives to find “constructive, realistic solutions”.

The Government, private sector (employers) and trade unions also needed to “negotiate from a position of strength based on principle, not pride”.

“We’ve got to check our egos at the door,” said the Premier.

“My message today is, we are all in this together. Finger pointing and blaming is not going to help anything, so let’s combine our strength, the strength we demonstrated in 1981.

“With this strength let’s help Bermuda to stand up, and to stand together to find a way out of the recession.”

She said she was “encouraged by the resilience of the Bermuda people and their spirit”.

Ms Cox said she was well aware many families were facing hardship.

She said the recession was not “as severe” as that of the mid-nineties, but that “the pain for families is real”.

The Premier said growing up in Vesey Street, Devonshire, her family had also faced hard times.

Her father (Eugene Cox) was an engineering graduate but, “because of the place Bermuda was then, he couldn’t get a job where he should have got a job”.

She said every Christmas her parents placed two items under the Christmas tree — a Cadbury’s ‘Fruit and Nut’ chocolate bar and two razor blades.

“It was a reminder of when the cupboard was bare,” she said.

“The symbol of the hard times.”

Ms Cox said: “What we are seeing now in Bermuda is, people are having to sacrifice, people are having to dig deeper.

“But the Bermuda spirit that I know is a spirit that doesn’t seek to prey on and to hurt the vulnerable.

“That’s not our Bermuda. Our Bermuda is prepared to have blood, sweat and tears, and sweat to burn the candle at both ends, to navigate the way out of the storm. That’s our Bermuda.

“So let us stand up and stand and help Bermuda through its difficult period.

“Right now there is some rain. It’s going to continue for a while but don’t forget, the rainbow is coming.”

The Premier concluded by saying: “Thank you for your blood, your sweat, your tears, your sacrifice and your love. Happy Labour Day.”

Kim Wilson, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, also called for unity.

She said: “The ties that bind are stronger than the ties which divide us.”

Reflecting on the theme of this year’s Labour Day — ‘Sustaining Trade Unionism’ — Ms Wilson said unions needed to adapt to the changing economic climate.

“I’m not talking about throwing the baby out with the bath water,” she said.

But she added: “We will need to be innovative and collaborative in our approach, setting aside egos and agendas for the common cause of supporting those members of our community who are facing hardship.”

Unions needed to be “more practical in how they approach disputes and disagreements”.

With last month’s bus strike fresh in people’s minds, Ms Wilson said: “I am a firm believer that there is no problem that is so tenuous or difficult that it cannot be solved without jeopardizing the reputation of this tiny little island and our delicate economy. Not everything has to be contentious.

Respect

“Brothers and sisters, the rancour that we’ve experienced these last few weeks have caused us all to pause and wonder aloud... how do we move beyond this point?

“In order to sustain our unions now and into the future we must operate on a playing field of mutual respect, cooperation and support.

“Our strength as a country is dependent upon us all working together in an effective and productive manner.”

Michael Weeks, Minister of Community Development, then spoke.

He said: “A vibrant trade union movement can only be sustained by incorporating more young adults into our workforce.”

They needed to have “the courage to believe in self, to believe in their country and their responsibilities to it”.

The importance of education, of “working hard and working smart”, needed to be instilled in young people. Also, that “nothing worth having comes easy”.

He concluded: “With our continued support, faith and encouragement, our youth can rise to extraordinary heights.”

John Barritt, Leader of the Opposition, said: “We’ve got to fix the problems we have and fix them together… It’s a much more competitive world. We’ve got to raise our game.

“We’ve got to be prepared to question, review and modify. Whether in business, politics or in neighbourhoods, the time is here for change. Bermuda demands it of us.”

Chris Furbert, Bermuda Industrial Union president, said the public’s perception of the BIU created a situation of “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t”.

He said the union only sought to balance the interests of its members with that of the country.

“Contrary to what the public may think, the BIU executive is not the BIU. The members, they are the ones that make all the decisions,” he said.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters – Good Morning!

It’s hot... it’s Labour Day... and there’s a full day of activities planned, so I promise you I’ll be brief!

Today is particularly significant for me as this marks my first Labour Day as Minister responsible for Labour...and oh what a baptism by fire it’s been!

But yet I’m thankful, because today is a day that we come together to celebrate the contributions of all workers. 

Indeed... “The ties that bind are stronger than the ties which divide us.”

Brothers and Sisters, Labour Day is one of the best known and oldest celebrated holidays around the world. For over 100 years the first Monday in September has included parades, picnics and most importantly, a day off from work to celebrate the collective contributions of all workers. 

You see, I don’t have a problem with change...but let’s celebrate with the workers today as we advocate for change in the meantime.

And as we celebrate today, let us not forget individuals like the father of the labour movement, Dr. E. F. Gordon... the mother of the movement, Dr. Barbara Ball... and other pioneers who carried on their vision... individuals like Brother Ottiwell Simmons... my colleague the Hon. Derrick V. Burgess... and my grandfather Robert Austin Wilson, who blazed a trail for not only the union, but in our family as well.

It was my grandfather the late Robert Austin Wilson, Trade Unionist, who instilled in me a spirit of advocacy and a character of discipline, dedication and commitment. It was at his feet where I came to understand the core principles of trade unionism.

So Brothers and Sisters when I consider this year’s Labour Day Theme, Sustaining Trade Unionism I recall the principles that our forefathers held dear – pride in self, pride in workmanship and equality amongst all men.

You see I understand the struggle - it was about equality, better working conditions, and fairness. 

The question is – why was it so significant?  Why was it so successful? 

I submit today, that it was because it was relevant.  Tactics including downing tools and withdrawing services were powerful motivators for employers who were building an economy.  It was significant because it was relevant.  It was successful because it was relevant.  This is what our economy needed to grow up.

Sustaining Trade Unionism means making it relevant for today’s economy.  I’m not talking about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The core principles are the same.

In this small 21 square miles, we need to rely on each other more than ever if we are to climb this seemingly insurmountable hill. The times that we are living in have changed significantly. This is not our parent’s economy nor is it our grandparent’s economy.

This is our economy and our workforce and if we are to successfully navigate it and get people back to work then we need to address the problem differently. We will need to be innovative and collaborative in our approach, setting aside egos and agendas for the common cause of supporting those members of our community who are facing hardship.

Indeed... “The ties that bind are stronger than the ties which divide us.”

And so in order to remain competitive in our global economy, employers working with Unions will need to fully utilize the economic potential of all their employees.

Those employers, who fully invest in their employees, by providing them with the skills they need and empowering them to perform their jobs in the workplace, will gain a competitive advantage and be better positioned to continue to provide employment.

Unions have an important role to play today, and in the future, in ensuring a harmonious working environment.

If Unions are to ensure their longevity then there are a number of factors that will have to play a part. We must hold true to the principles that unions were founded upon.

We must also recognise that labour relations should be conducted in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. Employees, unions and employers all have a vital stake in maintaining workplaces that are productive and competitive, emphasis and resources should be placed on solving problems and resolving issues rather than on conflict and confrontation.

Let me be clear, I am not knocking Union tactics, but I sincerely believe that Unions need to be more practical in how they approach disputes and disagreements.

I am a firm believer that there is no problem that is so tenuous or difficult that it cannot be solved with our jeopardising the reputation of this tiny little Island and our delicate economy. Not everything has to be contentious.

Brothers and sisters, the rancour that we’ve experienced these last few weeks have caused us all to pause and wonder aloud... how do we move beyond this point?

In order to sustain our unions now and into the future we must operate on a playing field of mutual respect, cooperation and support.

Brothers and Sisters, now more than ever we need to remember that:

“The ties that bind are stronger than the ties which divide us.”

Our strength as a Country is dependent upon us all working together in an effective and productive manner.

Finally, as I wind down my remarks today, I want to leave you with a few parting words as it relates to today’s celebration.

Samuel Gompers, founder and president of the American Federation of Labour (AFL) once said, “Labour Day differs in every essential way from other holidays of the year in any country… Labour Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”

The underlying philosophy of Sam Gompers is that the observance of Labour Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of you the workers, it is a national tribute to the contributions you have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our Country.

Labour Day celebrates the joy and satisfaction that comes from hard work and constant commitment.  The sense of a good job done, a day well spent and the pride of accomplishments are also reflected in this celebration. 

We labour for the love of the job, the sense of satisfaction of work well done and the commitment to make a better world for our children.

I encourage you to go to your respective jobs and give every ounce that you have. Take pride in what you do and go above and beyond to ensure that the customer is satisfied, that the economic engine churns, and that you do your part to help get your fellow Bermudians back to work.

Brothers and Sisters, the maintenance of good order, discipline, efficiency and proper conduct is essential to Bermuda’s reputation.

And I am of the belief that every employee has a duty to their employer and to their fellow Bermudians to preserve the highest standards in all aspects of work and behaviour.

To those here today, quite simply you must continue do your part and commit to being responsible, innovative, respectful and hard working members of our workforce. And when you see someone not giving their all, you have a responsibility to address them and show them the right way in how it’s done.

To the unions, yours is an all important role, we salute you today for the work that you have done, are doing, and will do in the future on behalf of the worker.  Make your work count – make it relevant! 

Brothers and sisters, it has been my singular honour to address and pay homage to you today.

You are the lifeblood of this community and today our Country is a better place because of your sacrifice and dedication and that of workers all over this Island.

Be blessed and be encouraged.

Thank you and enjoy the remainder of this day.