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Public servants strike threat

Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) President John Pinder said yesterday that the prime minister has 48 hours to come to the table with what he is prepared to do for BPSU members in writing or risk a public service strike.

Pinder said he and his members are tired of talking and are demanding a new industrial agreement.

“We are asking public servants to be on stand by,” Pinder said in a statement.

“We will not take this any longer. We will call public servants to an emergency meeting in short order.”

However, Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing, who has responsibility for the public service, said the prime minister does not take kindly to threats.

“I suppose Mr. Pinder has to do what he has to do and I am sure the prime minister will act accordingly. So we will have to see what happens here on after,” Laing said via telephone yesterday.

According to Pinder, however, union officials have been waiting months for the prime minister to call them to the table to negotiate a new industrial agreement.

“We have been promised that once they concluded the industrial agreement with the teachers that the BPSU would start,” Pinder told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.

“We are hearing verbally that the government does not wish to negotiate with us at this time.  They want us to wait until after the election. Now we know in wisdom, if you want to get anything you have to try and get something now; you cannot wait until after the House dissolves.”

The BPSU’s last industrial agreement expired on June 30, 2010 and a proposed agreement was sent to the government in October 2010, Pinder said.

Due to the economic situation, he noted, the union thought it best to accommodate the government’s request to delay negotiations until the economy was better, but he said he has not heard anything yet, a year and a half later.

Pinder said he wants something in writing and not a verbal agreement that the government would do something for civil servants.

He said he will try to make some headway with the government this week and if that fails, he will call a general membership meeting on Thursday to make his recommendations to his members.

“My advice to [the membership will] be to do what we have to do to get [the government to the table] and if that means industrial action or another general strike in the public service, so be it. But we have to really show them that we are serious about trying to get something,” Pinder said.

The union president said he planned to send the prime minister an email on the matter yesterday.

Laing said the government has an open door policy with respect to the union and is willing to discuss the matters.

“The government is always willing to do what is within its ability to do. If there are issues outstanding, those issues can be addressed,” he said.

The prime minister indicated that the government would not do anything for one union that it wouldn’t do for another, Laing pointed out.

Asked if the BPSU can expect a resolution soon to its concerns, Laing said, “I think what is true is that the concerns will be addressed more appropriately when the dialogue is taking place at the table as opposed to in the press.”

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has repeatedly pointed out that unlike some other countries, the government has not had to resort to laying off civil servants despite the economic crisis.

He made the point again in his recent New Year’s address to the nation.

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