Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy *File photo
Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy *File photo

This week the House of Assembly will debate the Labour Relations Amendment Act 2014. The proposed aim of the Bill, which was tabled in the House last Friday, is to include public transportation, and tug and line boat operation connected with cruise ships, as an essential service.

Currently essential services are:

1. Electricity

2. The extraction, distillation or purification, pumping, storage and distribution of water and the prevention of its waste, misuse or contamination.

3. Services provided for the protection of the public health and the prevention of disease including the collection, transportation, processing and disposal of trade and domestic refuse and sewage.

4. Hospital and nursing.

5. Domestic and industrial gas.

6. Port and dock services including pilotage, tug and line boat operation (not connected with cruise ships).

7. Fire.

8. Lighthouses.

9. Air and Marine Traffic Control.

10. The refuelling and maintenance of aircraft to the extent that this is necessary to maintain the essential services.

11. The loading and unloading of mail, medical supplies, foodstuffs, cattle and chicken feed and all supplies needed to maintain any essential service specified herein and the transport of such goods to their proper destination.

12. Transport necessary for the maintenance of any essential service specified herein and the maintenance of such transport.

13. Telephone, telegraph and overseas telecommunication.

14. Meteorological services.

15. Airport security services (other than Police service).

16. Ground electronic maintenance services connected with the safety of the Bermuda Airport and aircraft.

In advance of the debate, the Minister of Home Affairs, Sen. the Hon. Michael M. Fahy, JP, said today, “I have raised this matter on behalf of the Government with the BIU numerous times in the last year as part of our regular discussions.

“Two weeks ago I raised the issue again at the Labour Advisory Council. At that meeting a fruitful discussion was held, with the BIU confirming its view that public transport could be added to the Act as an essential industry. There is currently only one essential industry in the Act – and that is hotels. It is the Government’s view that public transport is not an essential industry – it is a service and should be treated as such. I advised the BIU of the Government’s view. We also advised the BIU of the tabling of the Bill in advance.”

The Minister continued, “Over the course of last year and this year, we have seen far too many instances where members of the public and our visitors have been majorly inconvenienced due to transportation services being pulled because of irregular industrial action. In each case, these irregular industrial actions occurred with little or no notice to the public.

“Quite simply, the disruption of public transportation services has a detrimental impact on the Island. Not only does it cause great inconvenience, but it negatively affects the Island’s economic health with the significant loss of government revenue each time services are withdrawn, not to mention the effect on private businesses when their employees are unable to get to and from work.

“Such irregular industrial actions also have a seriously negative effect on our reputation as a premier tourist destination. Hoteliers and cruise lines have raised such matters with this Government. Irregular industrial action in this area has knock on effects that cause irreparable harm to Bermuda’s economy.”

The Minister concluded, “It is important to note that Government is not trying to remove the workers’ ability to withdraw services should they not be satisfied with any progress related to a dispute. Government is simply looking to add public transport as an essential service which requires a 21-day Notice period prior to the withdrawal of labour. This 21-day notice period represents a ‘cooling off’ period which provides management and the Union an opportunity to resolve their grievances prior to escalating the matter.  This is a sensible and modern practice. Adding public transport as an essential industry does not require give a 21 day strike notice.

“At the end of the day, our primary focus is on ensuring that the people who use these services – the public and our visitors – are not left stranded each time the buses and ferries have a work stoppage. The public pays for these services and it’s grossly unfair to them when they have no means of getting to work, or to school or home when our public transportation services are inoperable due to industrial action without proper notice.

 “It is also incredibly important to give businesses certainty that their employees will be able to get to work and to ensure that our visitors, who spend money in our Island and create economic opportunity for Bermudians, have the best experience in Bermuda.  This is all the more important when Bermuda is in a delicate stage of recovery.”