FRIDAY, MARCH 30: A dispute over union rights at a fast food restaurant could go to arbitration, Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert said yesterday.

Mr Furbert said talks on the dispute — over a decision by KFC management to axe the collective bargaining agreement — had stalled and the union had called for an independent panel to examine the row.

He added: “The employer has a point of view that they had the right to cancel the agreement . . . we take a different point of view.

“The management team is going back to their board of directors and it looks like we cannot agree on a resolution.”

And Mr Furbert warned that a series of simmering disputes across a variety of industries, both public and private, suggested that employers were taking advantage of the recession to try to roll back hard-won workers’ rights.

Mr Furbert said: “It would appear, from the BIU’s point of view, that employers in Bermuda have systematically got together to roll back the gains made by organized labour in Bermuda.”

He added that vacations, sick leave and redundancy arrangements were all under threat as employers pleaded poverty due to the recession.

Mr Furbert said that management teams wanted to get rid of collective bargaining agreements and replace it with the provisions of the Employment Act 2000 — which offered much worse conditions than union-brokered deals.

He added that one example was the Act’s provision of 26 weeks’ pay for redundancy, compared to the union-negotiated norm of 52 weeks’ pay.

Mr Furbert said the Act was drawn up to set “minimum standards” — not to provide a benchmark for bosses to aim at.

He added that it appeared companies were intent on finding solutions to their own problems, but not taking workers’ concerns into account.

Mr Furbert said: “That to me is a recipe for disaster and it can’t continue that way. It’s only going to build up frustration.”

He added that a dispute at CableVision, which led to workers down tools for two and half hours last Friday, was still the subject of talks.

Mr Furbert said one migrant worker had not received any public holiday pay for the four or five years he had worked there and his contract specified a 50-hour working week.

He explained that while an employee could volunteer to work extra time at straight pay an employer could not enforce more than the standard 40-hour working week.

Mr Furbert said the union was prepared to sit round a table with employers who were struggling through the recession.