9:30AM UPDATE: Ferry services were still dead in the water this morning as a dispute over the use of an overseas vessel during the peak summer months simmered on.

Marine & Ports staff were due to meet at 8am this morning after they left ferry boats dead in the water yesterday for a meeting at the BIU HQ in Hamilton.

More updates are likely within the next few hours.



‘Disrespected’ ferry workers down tools

 


Ferry workers yesterday downed tools in a wildcat strike over plans to bring in a boat from overseas to help with a summer increase in visitors.

And normal service will only be resumed today as Marine & Ports staff pledged to stay off the water until Government explained why the BIU was not consulted before chartering the ferry.

Government announced earlier this month that it would bring in the 400-capacity Millennium from overseas to ease pressure on the existing fleet.

Last night Transport Minister Shawn Crockwell said the charter would create jobs for Bermudians, improve services for tourists and residents and did not breach any union agreements.

Furious

But furious ferry workers stopped services around 11:30am yesterday and workers said they would not leave the BIU HQ venue for a mass meeting until Marine & Ports management or Transport Minister Shawn Crockwell explained the decision.

Branding the decision to go ahead without talks with the union “extremely disrespectful” and a breach of the collective bargaining agreement, BIU chief Chris Furbert confirmed that Marine & Ports acting director Scott Simmons had promised to speak to his members.

Mr Furbert said existing agreements meant Government could not privatize public services without consultation with union representatives.

It is understood that Marine & Ports management spoke to ferry workers around 4pm yesterday — but the union could not be contacted for comment last night.

Earlier, Mr Furbert said workers had wanted to pull the plug on the ferries after a meeting at the BIU on Tuesday night — but that he had persuaded them to remain at work to give management and Government a chance to reply.

He said: “The division decided to send a clear message to management that the disrespect of the division would not be tolerated. They wanted to down tools on the Tuesday night and not go to work on Wednesday morning. I persuaded them to hold off.” But Mr Furbert — who said the previous PLP Government and UBP administrations prior to that would have been quick to answer — said yesterday afternoon that he had still not received an acknowledgement of his letter voicing concerns about the decision.

Marine & Ports Division president Sinclair Samuels said that four of the fleet of nine ferries were out of commission.

He added: “This is not a solution to the problem….if we had all the ferries running, we would have the capacity.”

Mr Crockwell said: “The chartering of a ferry to provide additional capacity this summer season will in no way negatively impact the staff of the Department of Marine & Ports.

Savings

“The proposed charter ferry Millennium will cost $1.2 million and will provide substantial savings over the cost of purchasing a new ferry, which is approximately $6 million.”

Mr Crockwell added that the overseas boat, scheduled to be in Bermuda for six months, was intended to provide a Dockyard to St George’s service, with “the vast majority” of passengers expected to be tourists.

He added that the vessel would have only an overseas skipper and engineer, with the rest of the crew being Bermudian — which may require the hiring of some extra Bermudian crew.

Mr Crockwell added that the decision did not contravene existing agreements and was not a privatization of ferry services.

He said: “On the contrary, this vessel will complement and put less strain on the existing fleet and will have zero impact on staffing levels.”

And Mr Crockwell said Mayor of St George’s Garth Rothwell and Mr Samuels supported that decision at a meeting last month.

Mr Crockwell added that the ferry would allow increased seasonal capacity — especially as the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, the biggest cruise ship ever to visit Bermuda, will begin this year. He said the boat would also free passenger space for residents and reduce wear and tear on the existing fleet.

Mr Crockwell added that the Millennium would also help improve the struggling St George’s economy and enhance tourism by providing a more frequent and reliable ferry service.

He said: “This additional ferry will be a win/win for Bermudians and visitors alike and the Ministry is proud to bring this innovative solution.”