Judge rules doctors union violated act when it continued strike after matter sent to tribunal

The Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) violated the Industrial Relations Act when it continued to strike despite the matter being referred to the Industrial Tribunal, Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder ruled yesterday.

Winder ordered that the BDU be restrained from contravening sections 76 and 83 of the act, effectively ending the union’s hopes of resuming a strike it commenced in late August.

While delivering his ruling, Winder described the union’s argument, that the Industrial Tribunal lacks teeth, as “circular”, noting that the tribunal authorized the union to strike and ultimately prohibited it once the minister of labor determined the public interest was threatened.

Winder also shot down the union’s claim that it had an agreement with Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis for junior doctors to be paid $5 million in outstanding holiday pay.

Winder declared that deal unenforceable, as the terms and mechanisms still needed to be worked out with the director of labor.

The union voted to strike on December 17, 2018.

On December 19, it was issued a strike certificate by the minister of labor.

On August 2, the union instructed the majority of its members to withdraw their labor.

Shortly thereafter, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal after determining that “the strike had affected and threatened the public interest”.

On August 28, with the union still striking, government obtained an interim injunction preventing the union from contravening the Industrial Relations Act, and ordering the doctors to return to work.

Yesterday’s decision comes as a blow to junior doctors, who have been at odds with the Public Hospitals Authority over unpaid holiday pay and other issues.

The union’s lawyer, Obie Ferguson, expressed disappointment in the ruling.

“This would have a serious effect because if the minister can refer a trade dispute that came out of a strike, and by referring it automatically means that you must discontinue your strike, where is the mechanism in place for the resolution of that dispute once it is referred [to] wherever it is being referred?” he asked.

Ferguson said he is awaiting instructions from the BDU on whether to challenge the decision before the Court of Appeal.

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