Union leaders leave meeting with PM dissatisfied

Several union leaders who attended a meeting on Saturday with Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and his Cabinet expressed dissatisfaction, noting that it was “poor timing”.

The leaders of seven public sector unions attended the meeting at the Paul Farquharson Conference Centre at the Police Headquarters.

Following the meeting, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said he and the prime minister both agreed that it was “very productive and very informative”.

However, some of the union leaders disagreed with Foulkes on the productivity of the meeting.

When asked how the meeting went, Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU) President Paul Maynard said, “I wouldn’t call it productive. It was informative.”

Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) President Kimsley Ferguson said, “I’m also of the view that this particular meeting was a meeting that should’ve been had centuries ago.

“If you’re going to advise us of the country’s position in light of the fact that there are industrial agreements that would’ve expired, I think your timing was poor.”

On August 22, hundreds of members of the BPSU marched on Bay Street to the Cabinet office, demanding money they say is owed to them by the government.

One day before that demonstration, junior doctors on New Providence and Grand Bahama went on strike.

The strike is ongoing.

Amid the increasing labor tensions, the prime minister said his government takes “the unions’ concerns seriously”.

Minnis said the purpose of the meeting was to facilitate “an open and frank discussion” about the state of the country’s economy and to provide “context for the government’s position”.

“[This] is why we convened the first-of-its-kind high-level meeting to discuss the country’s economic and fiscal affairs with all the unions,” he said in a statement.

Minnis added, “We recognize that finalizing all outstanding industrial agreements with relevant unions is a pressing concern and those negotiations must be concluded.”

Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Obie Ferguson said he viewed the meeting as “more…a promotional exercise”.

Ferguson said, “I don’t think that the majority of the unions can say that they have something specific to go back to the membership and say to the members, ‘this is as a result of the meeting this morning.’”

He added, “We came here open and we’re leaving empty.”

Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson said the government should’ve held such a meeting before the start of the fiscal year.

“I know that the national budget is not only prepared but has also been presented without any input from stakeholders such as us and we are very important stakeholders because our unions represent the workers,” Wilson said.

“There are 23,000 civil servants and our unions represent all of them. So, I’m concerned that there [have] been no allocations in the budget for salary increases…

“…You would all be aware that most of our industrial agreements would’ve expired from 2018 so that’s over a year ago. So, I hope that after this meeting that the finance minister along with the prime minister and their team would put their heads together and look at the financial aspect of all of our union agreements.”

Minnis said the government plans to integrate “these kinds of discussions” into the budget planning process.

“We want to learn from the past and make this kind of citizen dialogue happen in a proactive way,” he said.

“Although union members were hoping to resolve individual issues, the purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to facilitate an open and frank discussion about the state of the economy and to provide context for the government’s position.”

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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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