Members of the Bahamas Utilities Services and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU) continued to strike yesterday despite having received notice that Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal.
Foulkes made the announcement on Wednesday as he said the strike action of the unions at the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has “threatened the public interest”.
The Industrial Relations Act mandates that any person participating in a strike action must “discontinue” that action once the matter is referred to the Industrial Tribunal.
However, during a press conference on the grounds across from WSC yesterday, BUSAWU President Dwayne Woods called the move a “blatant attack on our civic rights as workers in this country”.
Woods, who said union members were “appalled and taken aback” at Foulkes’ letter, has sought the legal counsel of attorney Obie Ferguson – a former Trade Union Congress (TUC) president, who yesterday claimed that Foulkes’ decision was “in excess of his authority”.
“The important thing is here for you to know – this union is acting properly,” Ferguson said.
He added, “The constitution of this country gives every Bahamian citizen the right to withdraw their labor, and the minister gave a certificate to the unions advising them that they could go on strike.”
Calling Foulkes’ letter “pure, pure, absolute nonsense”, Ferguson said: “Well, since when Dion Foulkes could write a letter and order the workers back to work?
“The law is clear: there must be a dispute; the proceedings must be going on in the tribunal – you don’t have that; or it must be in the Court of Appeal – you don’t have that either.
“Dion is just like me or anybody else. He [doesn’t] have the capacity, not the capacity, to tell you, you must go back to work tomorrow. Only the court can do that. He has no jurisdiction. He has no legal authority.”
Wayne Munroe, QC, who said yesterday he was representing BUSAWU, also noted the Industrial Relations Act allows for 24 hours from receiving notice that a matter has been referred to the tribunal for strike action to cease or for a judicial review to be granted.
BUSAWU members who went on strike on Tuesday claimed they will not return to work until WSC Executive Chairman Adrian Gibson is removed from his post and they have a new and signed industrial agreement in hand.
However, while again dismissing calls for his removal yesterday, Gibson insisted that the ongoing strike is “illegal” and said that those workers who participated will have their pay docked.
“In talking to the director of labor, we concluded, based on the fact that obviously the matter has been referred to the Industrial Tribunal, the union is currently engaged in an illegal strike,” said Gibson during a press conference at WSC yesterday.
He added, “Any time there’s an issue of an illegal strike, obviously the entity, whatever it might be – Water and Sewerage or any other entity – has to dock the day, the time, from the salaries of those persons who are willfully participating in an illegal strike.”
The strike has not impacted the corporation’s services, according to Gibson.
He also suggested the corporation will seek a court injunction.
“The next step for the corporation in terms of it now being an illegal strike would be to move the court,” Gibson said.
Ferguson suggested yesterday that he would support the union if it chooses to take the dispute to court.
“Mr. President (Dwayne Woods), it’s your call,” Ferguson said.
“We will stay here until. If the court gives an order, we will…tell the court the order ought not to have been granted because at the time the letter was written, there was nothing – no proceedings [were] going on in the tribunal and no proceedings [were] going in the Court of Appeal…”
As he insisted that Foulkes “don’t have no authority to revoke the certificate” the ministry granted, Ferguson claimed: “You have not committed an offense because Dion Foulkes wrote a letter.”