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UNION PROTEST AT ‘SLAP IN THE FACE’: Members gathered outside Parliament as matters unresolved

By JADE RUSSELL

jrussell@tribunemedia.net

SCORES of Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) members gathered outside the House of Assembly yesterday outraged over the government’s failure to meet with union executives to resolve several outstanding matters.

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A major issue, described as “a slap in the face” by BPSU president Kimsley Ferguson, was that the government in the absence of negotiations and a mutual agreement, decided to issue salary increases for the public sector.

He also echoed previous accusations that the Davis administration has engaged in union busting tactics.

The protest signalled a climax to months of brewing contention on the union’s part.

Union members chanted, “we want our money, and we want it now” at Parliament Street where a portion of the road was barricaded with lines of police officers on guard.

“We have not been given the opportunity to negotiate on behalf of the people that we represent. It is something called union busting. It is clear what is happening, and the attack is not on the membership, but it is on the leadership of the Bahamas Public Service Union,” Mr Ferguson said.

 Asked what issues caused the union to stage the protest, Mr Ferguson responded: “The government decided, in the absence of a negotiation, to give public servants a salary increase, not an agreed salary increase. Of course, while we may not agree on a particular position, we can come to an agreed position. We can disagree to agree on, so we have not been given that opportunity to negotiate on behalf of the persons that we do represent.”

 He added: “What really brought us to this particular point is when we saw a circular giving particular members of the public service a large increase. That’s inconsistent with what is being proposed in the face of them indicating that the economy is not properly rebounding. But shortly after the government can find the money to give permanent secretaries at least a $600 increase inclusive of the monies that we are bargaining for. So, to us it’s a slap in the face, it adds insult to injury.”

 During the demonstration, Mr Ferguson and other union executives spoke to acting Prime Minister Chester Cooper.

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Prime Minister Philip Davis is out of the country attending the 10th Summit of the Americas.

 Mr Cooper said he was surprised to see the union protesting, saying he thought matters were being handled.

 However, Mr Ferguson pointed out to Mr Cooper that the signing of the Airport Authority’s industrial agreement has yet to take place.

 He asked Mr Cooper when the signing would be done.

 Mr Ferguson continued, “And when we can we receive documentation of proposals based on the adjustments that I’m advised the government made for consideration?”

 Mr Cooper said Minister of Public Service Fred Mitchell indicated to him that the documentation was being “cleaned up” and suggested once that is done the document will be provided to the union.

 “When the documents are cleaned up, they will undertake to get them to you. Minister Pia Glover-Rolle is out of the country. She’s returning I believe, on Monday or Tuesday. And when she returns, she will make preparations in Minister Mitchell’s absence to ensure that what needs to happen, happens,” Mr Cooper said.

 While Mr Ferguson and other members gathered around the acting prime minister, Mr Cooper told members that they did not have “to meet in the street” to discuss their issues.

 Belinda Wilson, president of both the Bahamas National Alliance Trade Union Congress and Bahamas Union of Teachers, shouted: “When you write, when you email, when you call, you’re ignored so we have to come to you.”

 When asked if he was satisfied with the conversation with Mr Cooper, Mr Ferguson said he was not.

 “I’m not satisfied at all. We are going to continue to agitate until such time as we get the results that we’re looking for. And we are disappointed that the integrity of the leader of this country has been presented to Bahamian people for their scrutiny.

 “Because when people are being provided with information that is inaccurate and it can’t be substantiated that it is inaccurate by their own volition, it is cause for concern in this country. It is a serious cause for concern when there is no integrity in the leadership of the country,” Mr Ferguson claimed.

“We’re going to make a decision as to how we’re going to move forward to continue to get the attention of the government,” Mr Ferguson said when he was also asked if the union planned to demonstrate at Parliament again or have a disruption of services.

 “We are not at this particular point, ready to indicate where and what it is we’re going to do,” he said.

 Meanwhile, some members of BPSU expressed frustration with the government.

 Marvin Archer said: “We have been overlooked for many years. No promotion, no increment, just nothing. We had to come out here to show them that the workers run this country, not the politicians. You can’t just do a proposal without notifying our union.”

 Another member shouted: “We need justice and we need it now.”

 The protestors also got the attention of Free National Movement leader Michael Pintard, deputy leader Shanendon Cartwright, chairman Dr Duane Sands, and East Grand Bahama MP Kwasi Thompson.