Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes announced yesterday that the strike action of the unions at the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has “threatened the public interest” and referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal.
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.
“I have, therefore, referred the disputes, which have given rise to the strike actions, to the Industrial Tribunal,” Foulkes said in a statement.
“In accordance with the said act, all parties to the dispute have been notified in writing.”
Members of the Bahamas Utilities Services and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU) who went on strike Tuesday claimed they will not return to work until Executive Chairman Adrian Gibson is removed from his post and they have a new and signed industrial agreement in hand.
During a press conference at WSC yesterday, Gibson said he serves at the pleasure of the prime minister and BUSAWU President Dwayne Woods has no right to determine who the company employs.
Referring to Foulkes’ letter, Gibson said he expects that all staff at WSC will return to work today.
“Today, Prime Minister the Most Honorable Dr. Hubert Minnis directed that the dispute of both unions be referred to the Industrial Tribunal,” Gibson said.
“Pursuant to section 72(2) of the Industrial Relations Act, the prime minister directed the minister of labor to refer both matters to the Industrial Tribunal, or matters affecting both unions.”
He added, “A short while ago, I received a letter from the minister with responsibility for labor, and the letter concludes that, ‘This serves to notify you that I have referred the disputes which have given rise to the strike action to the Industrial Tribunal’.
“Prior to saying that, it noted that these disputes threatened the public’s interest.
“Copies of the referral have been sent to the Water and Sewerage Corporation, and I’ve been advised, have been served upon the respective union leaders.
“As such, the strike is over and we expect that all staff will return to work tomorrow (today).”
Woods said yesterday that roughly 150 WSC employees were on strike.
“This morning, we arrived to work and what we met was a full platoon of defense force officers with full artillery, gun-toting M16s and AK47s,” Woods claimed.
“This is indicative of what we’re facing at the Water and Sewerage Corporation that we’ve been complaining about. The executive chairman is being judge, jury and executioner…
“If we can’t come to work and demonstrate in a peaceful manner, that we have to have the defense force with all of its guns and artilleries pointed at us, something is drastically wrong.
“We are demonstrating peacefully [and] at no time do we want to be treated inhumanely, by coming to the workplace with guns pointed at us.”
But Gibson said that the presence of armed officers was to “guard against sabotage”.
He said the officers are also expected to be redeployed by today.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the government has assigned the Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers to assist in safeguarding our major installations and ensuring that our loyal customers are not impacted by any act of sabotage,” Gibson said.
He added, “These officers are ensuring that all of the critical meters and valves at our 14 critical sewer stations and plants are all safeguarded.
“A year ago, following union action, the water supply was sabotaged and disrupted, with further sabotage to our sewer stations and other facilities.”
In April 2019, water supply went off in several areas of New Providence, impacting households, Princess Margaret Hospital, Doctors Hospital, Baha Mar and many businesses.
Gibson, at the time, accused BUSAWU members of “malicious acts of sabotage”, although the union denied involvement.
Yesterday, Woods said the union would never “attempt to sabotage or go the wrong way in damaging the infrastructure of the company”, claiming that they “see that type of behavior as treason to the government”.
Members of BUSAWU are set to meet with Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson today to “explain our options moving forward”.