Victory salute: Unionized workers at a meeting yesterday were told four sacked hotel workers will be reinstated. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead
Victory salute: Unionized workers at a meeting yesterday were told four sacked hotel workers will be reinstated. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

It’s been a week all about jobs, workers’ rights, employers’ challenges and responsibilities — and the plight of Bermudians in the workplace.

And today the Sun reveals some startling figures about working Bermudians on the breadline. Can you imagine trying to live on $400 a week? And that’s before taxes and pension fees are taken out. 

At least 2,610 wage earners in Bermuda make less than that.

And according to Nicola Feldman, executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, if you’re making that little, “what is the point in even working?”

The notion of ‘two Bermudas’ has been a recurrent theme this week, as Bermudians took sides in the BIU’s dispute with the Fairmont Hamilton Princess.

Things turned sour when off-duty Chamber of Commerce official Joanne MacPhee yelled at marching workers from the balcony of a Front Street eatery.

She was suspended yesterday and the PLP suggested that her actions reflected “anti-labour attitudes that continue to divide us into two Bermudas”.

Ms MacPhee issued an effusive apology but the broader question remains: are we almost as divided today as we have been in the past?   

Sources told our newsroom that the union was sending a message this week that neither employers nor the OBA government can do what they like, amid talk of commercial immigration and other hot-button topics. 

David Burchall stood across the street from the Heritage Worship Centre with dozens of other union members waiting for the news that the work stoppage, which had paralyzed public transit on the island for more than a day, was over.

His summation of the situation was succinct.

“It’s about money,” said Mr Burchall, a member of the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) who works for the Corporation of Hamilton maintaining Fort Hamilton. 

He added, “I’m not saying get rid of the foreigners but if someone’s head has to roll, it should be the foreign contract workers first. Otherwise you’ll have the mushroom effect. Without a job, no one is going to have a place to stay. No one’s going to rent to someone who has no income.”

Mr Burchall was not alone in his sentiments. Another union worker who is employed at Tucker’s Point Club but declined to give her name agreed that “foreigners should go first... Bermudians should stay”, she said, “You see this crowd? This means we’re fed up, we’re tired. Something needs to change.”

Jermaine DeSilva, who works for the fire service and is not a member of the BIU, was there to stand in solidarity with his fellow union workers.

“This is a cry of justice,” said Mr DeSilva. “It’s about doing what’s right, doing the moral thing.”

Dozens of union workers milled about the Dundonald Street building yesterday morning. There were union shirts and union pins. Bus drivers were dressed in blue button-up shirts and sweater vests.  Workers texted on phones and chatted amiably astride parked motor scooters on the sidewalk; there were no parking spots available on the street. Inside, the centre’s hall was packed, with everyone waiting for the news, which came around 11am: the strike was over.

The work stoppage had its genesis in the sacking of  10 workers at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess late last month. Five of the workers were part of the BIU; all but one of them sought representation through the union in the matter. The union has claimed the hotel made the redundancies without following proper protocol. Specifically, the union asserts it was not properly consulted about the redundancies before they happened.

What began earlier in the week as a disagreement between hotel  management and the union, which boasts more than 4,000 members in Bermuda, escalated into a full-fledged work stoppage by mid-week. On Wednesday, public transit was paralyzed as BIU workers who run those services walked off the job. Public transportation continued to be hampered Thursday morning.

Chris Furbert, BIU president, announced he had come to an agreement with hotel management that would include the reinstatement of the quartet of workers who were in the union and sought its representation in the wake of the redundancies. Three of the four who are being reinstated are bar porters.

Workers to be re-hired

The four workers will be reinstated on May 1. In the meantime, they will not lose health insurance coverage, he said.

Mr Furbert revealed that in recent weeks, other BIU members had considered going on strike because of dissatisfaction with management. Specifically, he said union workers of the Parks and Marine and Ports had nearly put down their tools and walked off their jobs. He suggested that management of those public departments were held to a different standard than the workers.

The union has some “very serious concerns that need to be addressed”, said Furbert.

He added, "If this isn't going to be an eye opener for the country, I don't know what it's going to take. If you think yesterday was bad, it could get a whole lot worse.”

Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy said the government is looking into such grievances but declined to expound about the situation.

One veteran political observer noted that the work stoppage and subsequent outcome was all about “sending a big message to the OBA/UBP government that they can’t do as they like. For example: commercial immigration — giving foreigners the right to vote as long as they contribute money”.

That source added: “This is why the 1977 riots were popular with some blacks: it got rid of the three-year foreign vote in a hurry and made Front Street listen.” 

Read more:
Sacked worker: ‘I was in shock’
Could you survive on just $400 a week? Some in Bermuda do
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director suspended
Bermuda Tourism Authority: Labour dispute could impact tourism
We will not back down in the fight for equality
Putting staff before customers is financial suicide