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Threat of serious industrial unrest: Union leaders hold marathon meeting with Prime Minister

By Mark Symonette, Nassau Guardian, 5 July 2000

Labour leaders Tuesday hinted at serious industrial unrest if the government persisted in passing a package of controversial labour Bills.

Debate is scheduled to begin today in the House of Assembly on the Employment Bill, one in a series of controversial bills proposed by the government.

The possibility of serious action was revealed at a press conference yesterday, one day after leaders of the country's most powerful unions held a marathon meeting with Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and Labour and Maritime Affairs Minister Dion Foulkes.

Leroy "Duke" Hanna, president of the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU), and Obie Ferguson, head of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), reported progress after a seven-hour meeting with the Prime Minister on Monday.

"We won't reveal some of the details that we have discussed, but we will hope that out views or input will find their way into the Bills," Hanna told a press conference at the Bahamas Telecommunications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) headquarters, Farrington Road.

"Now if that doesn't happen... oh, boy," he said, indicating possible industrial unrest.

The meeting with the Prime Minister was conducted in good faith, Hanna said. It was respectful and, from his remarks, it appeared that there was an agreement with the Prime Minister not to reveal details of the discussions at this stage.

The unions said they were united in their approach to the Bills, which, they contend, will push workers back 50 or 60 years.

The government intends to push forward with the Employment Bill, 2000, the Minimum Wages Bill, the Health and Safety at Work Bill, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill, and the Trade Disputes Bill.

The Bahamas Employers Association, consisting of some of the country's biggest and most influential employers, have attacked provisions in the Bills.

The government, for its part, maintained that the legislation is intended to advance the rights and dignity of workers.

Trade unions are concerned that the Bills will actually strip away worker rights, leaving them at the mercy of greedy employers.

"We will remain together, we are very strong, we are very focused on what we think the workers' needs are," Hanna said.

Hanna said the bills have caused such a stir that "even the employers are asking for more time, even though I think they have had their concerns satisfied."

The unions are also asking for some television time to put their case directly to the workers. "We are not in the House of Parliament, at least not yet, and so, therefore, it is very difficult for us to put our case," Ferguson added.

The government, they said, was moving with undue haste: "We see no reason why the matter should not be postponed and delayed until all the parties can articulate their concerns," Ferguson said.

While some progress was made at Monday's discussions, he said, the government was "totally aware that we have some serious difficulties about certain aspects of those Bills because it does not represent the interest of the working people."

"It seeks to take us back as opposed to even maintaining where we are, or for that matter, moving us forward," Ferguson said.