The Minister of Home Affairs has criticised Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert for going public with their correspondence by releasing a ‘not-entirely-accurate’ letter to the press.

Minister Fahy’s response comes after the BIU went to the press with certain grievances concerning the management of the Department of Marine & Ports and the Department of Parks.

In a statement, the Minister said the current state of the labour dispute is ‘terribly disappointing’. The statement also said last week’s industrial action saw ‘at least two Government Departments engage in irregular and unlawful industrial activity’ and that ‘appropriate protocols must be followed by unions and workers who wish to engage in any kind of industrial action’.

Minister Fahy said in a press release: "I am disappointed that the BIU has chosen to release correspondence through the press, especially since the letter disclosed to the media on Friday was not entirely accurate. 

"On Wednesday, 19th February 2014 at 2.35 pm , an email was received by the Ministry of Tourism and Transport and forwarded to my attention. The letter stated: 

Please be advised that at the meeting held today here at BIU Headquarters, the members of the Marine & Ports Division have voted unamiously [sic] to take industrial action as of first thing tomorrow morning due to the lack of progress on the many outstanding issues communicated to you on December 19, 2013 and your [Minister Crockwell] lack of involvement in the process. Should you wish, you may contact President Furbert.

"The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is clear - there is a Grievance Procedure and it is alleged this has not  been followed. Furthermore, Marine and Ports has a number of services, some of which are deemed essential - such as pilot and tug operations. 

"Industrial action requires 21 days notice for essential services.  Failing to do so is unlawful as indicated quite clearly in the statute. As such it was quite appropriate in my view  for the Ministry of Tourism Development and Transport to seek an injunction, which is sought in the name of the Minister responsible, to ensure that essential services are provided and that the public is not adversely affected.

"For the sake of clarity, the injunction was  obtained at approximately 6.00 pm on 19th February 2014 and thereafter served by email in the same manner in which industrial action was notified. At no time was an undertaking given by me or any other Minister that the injunction would not be served prior to discussions on 20th February 2014, since, quite simply, it had already been served. A hard copy followed in the early afternoon of 20th February 2014. 

"It's important to note as well that the Ministry of Home Affairs' Permanent Secretary advised the BIU President following the February 14th LAC meeting that he should afford the Ministry an opportunity to reach out to the respective Permanent Secretaries of the Ministries of Tourism Development and Transport and Public Works regarding the issues so that a resolution could be sought. However industrial action ensued before my Permanent Secretary could provide the BIU with a full update and assessment.

"To be very clear, as it stands currently, there is nothing whatsoever from stopping the parties from trying to resolve their issues when an injunction has been served.

"The BIU and Government have talked repeatedly about the importance of following the CBA and the statutory regime. In my view when that is not followed parties have the right to seek relief from the courts. It is terribly disappointing that things have come to this - especially since the BIU was clear two weeks ago that following the process was important. 

"This too was confirmed at the LAC a week ago.  More to the point, it is not the role of Ministers to get involved in staffing issues. There is a process in place under the legislation which must be followed. And I personally made this very clear to the BIU President on 14th February 2014 following the LAC meeting.  

"In any event, the dispute involving Marine and Ports' essential services has been referred to arbitration under the Labour Relations Act 1975 with Mr. Craig Rothwell as Chairman and Dr. Michael Bradshaw and Mr. Paget Wharton as tribunal members.  

"Again, per the statutory regime, all essential industry workers should return to work. This understanding was also acknowledged at the recent LAC meeting.

"Regarding the non-essential Marine and Ports and Department of Parks services, Labour Dispute Notices have been published - as such workers should return to work.

"The law is clear in this regard: At any time after the published...a...strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike is unlawful. 

"I remind the parties that the Labour Disputes Act 1992 also says: Any person who takes part in, incites or in any way encourages, persuades or influences any person to take part in or otherwise acts in furtherance of, a lock-out, strike or industrial action short of a strike that is guilty of an offence and is liable - on conviction on indictment to a fine of five thousand dollars or to imprisonment for two years or both; on summary conviction to a fine of one thousand dollars or to imprisonment for three months.

"Finally for the entire day of Friday 21st February 2014 the Department of Workforce Development attempted to reach BIU President Chris Furbert to attempt to conciliate the Department of Parks matters. All efforts were unsuccessful on the basis that President Furbert was 'in meetings'.   

"This led to my declaration of a dispute under the Labour Disputes Act 1992 since the Ministry was unable to obtain consent from both parties to arbitrate under the Labour Relations Act 1975. 

"At this stage, it is the BIU's desire to have a Board of Inquiry, however this request is somewhat academic since Labour Dispute Notices have been published and Tribunals have been established. However, the Ministry will endeavour to reach out to the parties in this regard in any event.

"As a final note, irregular and unlawful ndustrial action is something that should be avoided. I am hopeful that common sense will prevail and that all services return to normal."