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Sickout at BPL

At least 200 Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) employees across The Bahamas called in sick yesterday, according to Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU) Chief Shop Steward Randol Dorsett.

BPL officials did not confirm the number of employees who called in.

“There seems to be a flu bug around throughout the company,” said Dorsett when called for comment.

“The one thing I’ve learned is that it seems that sometimes mental exhaustion can bring on physical ailment as well. I think we’re learning so much about our mental health and having effects on our physical health.

“So I think a lot of it has a lot to do with that. Our prayers go out to the membership and we hope and pray they get back to their normal selves as soon as possible.

“We just hope that their mental health can be helped and their physical health can be helped by a leadership that is more caring and concerned about the well-being of the employees.”

He said the illness seemed to be “spreading like wildfire”, adding that it may “last a while”.

Despite the sickout, BPL executives yesterday assured the public power supply will not be impacted.

“What we would’ve experienced today was certainly a number of employees not showing up to work,” said BPL CEO Whitney Heastie at a press conference at BPL headquarters.

“The most important thing for us is to make sure that the customer and the level of service that we provide to our customers is uninterrupted. So we would’ve spent – since we would have gotten information yesterday — a good bit of time focusing our attention to make sure that the supply to our customers was uninterrupted.

“We have successfully done that and I want to just make sure the public understands that we’re consistently driving toward making sure that their service during this time is uninterrupted.”

He said BPL has contingency plans for situations like this as well as natural disasters. Heastie said those plans were executed yesterday.

Yesterday’s sickout occurred amid tension between the union and BPL.

Last month, scores of BPL workers marched around the company’s headquarters on Blue Hill Road.

At the time, BEWU President Kyle Wilson, who said he was too sick to comment yesterday, gave BPL 14 days to resolve several matters of concern — including what the union alleges are poor working conditions on the Family Islands and unfair promotions and hiring practices, all claims the company denied.

When contacted by The Nassau Guardian 14 days later for an update on the concerns, he said the union and officials from the power company were able to resolve several of the union’s issues.

“We were able to resolve some issues like the increments,” Wilson said yesterday.

“We were able to resolve some of the issues as far as sexual harassment issues on the job. We were able to resolve some of the issues as far as the managers not understanding the agreement. To an extent, they indicated that they will have meetings with the managers to help them to understand the processes.

“We were able to hammer out issues that were before the Labour Board. Some still remain at large but I feel as though if the company remains committed to the process, we can work these issues out.”

Compensation 

BPL Chairman Dr. Donovan Moxey indicated yesterday that negotiations between the company and the union were ongoing.

He said the press conference was called after an internal document, which is a part of those negotiations, was leaked to the public. 

“After a negotiation session yesterday, on Tuesday, we had made a formal offer to the union,” Moxey said.

“The union then, based on information that we found, distributed that particular offer publicly. And so, given the fact that they have taken that particular action as well as other actions that have been rumored over the last 24 hours, we felt that it was very, very important that we come to the public and essentially state our case as best as we possibly can without violating any normal norms, if you may, with respect to negotiating agreements.”

A copy of that document, which was obtained by this newspaper, indicated that, as a result of BPL’s financial position, it is not in the position to provide increments in addition to what it is already proving on an annual basis.

The letter, which was dated July 27, 2021, and signed by BPL Executive Director Hugh P. Rollins, proposed that the union and the company sign a two-year industrial agreement that would expire in 2023 and renegotiate a new industrial agreement upon the expiration of the two-year period.

It also proposed that provisions of the expired industrial agreement related to benefits remain as is and that all employees receive lump sum payments – on the date of signing the industrial agreement and on August 1, 2022 – that would equal their normal Christmas bonus.

Moxey said BPL values its employees.

He said the company offers “very and extremely competitive” compensation.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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