BTUC: Chief Justice Refuses To Grant Injunction

January 15, 2016

BTUC Logo thumb generic[Updated] Today the Chief Justice “ruled in favour of the Unions by refusing to grant a permanent injunction,” the Bermuda Trade Union Congress [BTUC] said.

The BTUC consists of multiple unions including the Bermuda Federation of Musicians & Variety Artists, Bermuda Fire Services Association, Bermuda Industrial Union, Bermuda Public Services Union, Bermuda Union of Teachers, Electrical Supply Trade Union and the Bermuda Prison Officers Association.

A statement from the BTUC said, “The Chief Justice’s ruling now prevents employers from unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment for all workers.

“Today the Chief Justice ruled in favour of the Union’s by refusing to grant a permanent injunction. It is now clear that the letter dated the 23rd January 2015 ignited the dispute between Government and the public sector workers of Bermuda.

“During the course of the trial the Chief Justice described the letter from the Minister of Finance as one of the most explosive pieces of correspondence in the history of industrial relations in Bermuda.

“In paragraph 82 of the judgment the Chief Justice described the letter dated 23rd January as a fundamental breach of the contracts of public workers. He also described the letter as provocative.

“Public sector workers of Bermuda are entitled to better treatment from their Government. During the trial the Government failed to produce any evidence of historic patterns of strike action by respondent unions to support their case. The Chief Justice praised the care the BTUC took during the course of negotiations over furlough days.

“The Chief Justice said that the injunctions sought by the Government would in a general sense serve as a threat hanging over the Respondents’ head which would potentially impair their ability to fully enjoy their freedom of association rights while enabling the Government side to breach the spirit in which collective bargaining processes should be conducted.

“In paragraph 88 of the judgment the Chief Justice said the Minister cannot properly invite the Court to grant injunctive relief to prevent a risk of harm which will only occur if the Government side itself breaches the spirit [if not the letter] of the labour relations legislative scheme as read with section 12 of the Constitution. Workers have the right to belong to trade unions.

“Employers [including the Government] are by necessary implication required to respect the right of trade unions to represent their members and to deal with the unions in good faith in a non —provocative manner.

“The Court ruled it is impossible to imagine circumstances in which unlawful industrial action could properly be said to be imminent in the requisite legal sense when there is no current or pending dispute which it is clear the parties cannot resolve through negotiations or other forms of consensual dispute resolution.

“The Government succeeded in securing declarations in respect of minor breaches based upon the inappropriate behaviour of the Government. In light of the fact that the Government acted unlawfully we do not understand why declaratory relief was granted and the BTUC will consider next steps.”

Update 2.33pm: The Government has also responded to the ruling saying, “The court declared that these public sector unions acted unlawfully during the events of 26 – 28 January 2015. Although the Government’s application for a permanent injunction was not granted, the court was clear that Bermuda’s labour legislation provides requirements that must be met by public sector unions before a strike will be legal.”

Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy said, “The Government agrees that this represents an opportunity to create better relationships with the Unions and looks forward to engaging with them to build on previous collaborative efforts in order to deal effectively with our public debt crisis through prudent fiscal measures and sustainable public sector finances.”

The Government’s full response is below:

Today the Chief Justice issued his ruling in the case of Minister of Home Affairs v BIU, BPSU, BUT, Prison Officers Association and Fire Officers Association. Members of the public will recall that these proceedings were brought about by Government when the Bermuda Trade Union Congress called on public sector workers to leave their workplaces and attend Cabinet Office grounds for three days in January 2015. They did so in response to Government’s request of the Unions to extend the agreement on Furloughs.

The Chief Justice today made the following declarations—

  • THAT the [BIU, the BPSU and the Fire Officers Association], as regards their divisions or units which are essential services, on or about January 28, 2015, acted unlawfully, contrary to section 9(1) of the Labour Relations Act 1975, in taking irregular industrial action short of a strike;
  • THAT the [BIU, the BPSU and the BUT] acted unlawfully, contrary to section 19 of the Labour Disputes Act 1992, in taking irregular action short of a strike.

In summary, the court declared that these public sector unions acted unlawfully during the events of 26 – 28 January 2015. Although the Government’s application for a permanent injunction was not granted, the court was clear that Bermuda’s labour legislation provides requirements that must be met by public sector unions before a strike will be legal.

The Chief Justice said that, “the war against a public debt crisis which could, if not addressed, ultimately transfer control of the country’s finances to its lenders, remained to be fought.” This case has long been made by the Minister of Finance.

The Chief Justice concluded that all parties should take this case as an opportunity to engage collaboratively going forward.

The Minister of Home Affairs Sen. the Hon. Michael Fahy JP, upon learning of the decision said, “The Government agrees that this represents an opportunity to create better relationships with the Unions and looks forward to engaging with them to build on previous collaborative efforts in order to deal effectively with our public debt crisis through prudent fiscal measures and sustainable public sector finances.”

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  1. Legalgal says:

    So that explains why there was no ferry. A shame.

    • The next time SpongeBob comes with threatning letters, he better ask somebody !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • jt says:

        The next letters will be pink. And yes…for admin too…since you’re thinking it.

      • Rich says:

        Actually, you’re probably right. If he had run that letter by Government lawyers …

      • Widget says:

        I agree the Chief Justice made the right decision in this case. I am not always in favor on how the Unions conduct themselves but the workers must be protected.

    • Really really Bettty says:

      Congratulations Workers and Unions.

      This is indeed an Excellent and Right Ruling by the Chief Judge….. Workers have Rights. UNIONS must be able to protect and stand for its Workers….

      Well done. …
      Thus this is indeedy a great day.

      United We Stand and divided We fall

      Let’s continue to Stand as One! !!

      Much Love

      • Rich says:

        I agree – this is an excellent ruling. Though I don’t think for the reasons that you believe.

        The unions are putting on a brave face. The reality is they cannot be happy with the judgment, which said they acted unlawfully in failing to comply with the requirements to strike.

      • 32n64w says:

        Don’t think you actually read the ruling. Despite what the BTUC spins/says, there was no winner and the unions were found by a court of law to have acted illegally and also displayed dizzying levels of selfishness. The CJ stated:

        “The Minister of Finance has formed the view, which this Court does not question, that the public interest requires negotiations with the Respondents in relation to several CBAs and a restructuring of the public sector to prevent the continuation of a potentially calamitous decline of Bermuda’s public finances with indirect adverse consequences for the wider economy.”

        “Such negotiations cannot be successfully pursued if the Unions are permitted at their whim to engage in mass demonstrations and thumb their nose at applicable trade union law.”

        “The furlough day battle may have been won, but the war against a public debt crisis which could, if not addressed, ultimately transfer control of the country’s finances to its lenders, remained to be fought. From an objective standpoint, the parties appear to have a shared interest in supporting the Government’s economic recovery plan.”

        “According to the largely uncontested evidence, this recovery requires promoting Bermuda as a stable and sophisticated 21st century investment destination. It would seem to follow that this requires Bermuda to develop sustainable and sophisticated 21st century labour relations as well.”

        “Whether the parties use the present public finances crisis as an opportunity to further their shared interests and the wider public interest in a consistently collaborative manner is entirely in their own hands.”

  2. mixitup says:

    Duck!! There is a egg coming your way Govt!! SPLATT!!!

  3. John E. Thorne says:

    Congratulations to the unions. In the spirit of goodwill, please celebrate your victory by promising to never engage in illegal strikes again and therefore, we will never have to waste tax payers money again.

    • Rubber Bong says:

      Did you not read the part where the CHIEF JUSTICE (who is independent) said the Government’s letter was ” one of the most explosive pieces of correspondence in the history of industrial relations in Bermuda”? It would appear that protest would be a natural response by most normal thinking people. The people may have been inconvenienced but have a little compassion. The Government “provoked” the situation.

      • serengeti says:

        Er, no. The BTUC said that. The Chief Justice did not say that.

        • Rubber Bong says:

          “During the course of the trial the Chief Justice described the letter from the Minister of Finance as one of the most explosive pieces of correspondence in the history of industrial relations in Bermuda.

          • serengeti says:

            …words taken from the press release issued by the BTUC. Those are their words. The court ruling, which are the judges words, does not say those words. Those words are the BTUC’s.

        • Regardless who said it, it’s still TRUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Build a Better Bermuda says:

        Did you not read the part when the Chief Justice also said the unions engaged in illegal industrial actions.

        • Rubber Bong says:

          “In paragraph 82 of the judgment the Chief Justice described the letter dated 23rd January as a fundamental breach of the contracts of public workers. He also described the letter as provocative.

          • Rich says:

            Actually para 82 does not say the letter was a fundamental breach, just that it threatened one. It might be a small thing but it is a distinction with a huge difference – in fact, it was crucial to the determination of the case.

            “82. The crucial question is not whether the January 23, 2015 letter contained a contingent threat by Government to fundamentally breach the public workers’ contracts by sending them home unpaid if they did not agree to extend furlough days. It clearly did. The question is whether, bearing in mind the threatened unilateral alteration of the contracts of employment related to a date more than two months away, the Respondents’ decision to initiate industrial action on January 26, 2015 was at that point in time a legitimate response.”

    • Onion says:

      They already promised this in exchange for the $9+ million gift from the taxpayers for forgiving the Berkley bond. We all know how long that lasted.

      • Rubber Bong says:

        if you remember correctly, the forgiving of the bond was in reference to the BIU. The BTUC is made up of about 6 different unions

    • SMH! says:

      How are the strikes illegal? Please explain….

      Well done BTUC and the Chief Justice for standing up for the everyday workers – KUDOS! Justice prevails.

      • Onion says:

        The Chief Justice found that the strikes were illegal.

      • Build a Better Bermuda says:

        Simple, there are legislated and contractual steps that have to be followed to ensure all avenues of conflict resolution have been explored, before the unions can engage in industrial actions, they choose to completely Ignore them.

  4. Crushed says:

    What the Unions need to recognise is that it is for the shop stewards to represent the workers. When a meeting is called, it is for the shop stewards to attend, not the entire membership. That represents a strike in anyone’s book, surely?

    • So should only deacons and elders attend church services?
      LMFAO

      • Legalgal says:

        But only deacons and elders need attend a synod. The CJ had already ruled that they did not need to attend. If they do attend it must be on their own time.

        • Time Shall Tell says:

          Anytime you’re not receiving payment from your employer IS your own time…

  5. Rhonnda aka Blue Familiar says:

    “… in the requisite legal sense …”
    And therein lies the rub.

    Really, all that’s wanted is for both sides to live up to their promises in agreements. BOTH sides.

    This means that walk outs and wildcat strikes which we all know have happened and will happen again, regardless of what the union promises in agreements, need to stop. Give the appropriate notice and then strike and you’ll get far more respect and support from people in general, even if they don’t agree with what you’re protesting.

    This also means Government not threatening things outside the agreement. This means always pressing for discussions, open discussions.

  6. San George says:

    Poor leadership on both sides. We are going to have to work together to get out of this mess. Your employer cannot pay you more than they have. We all must do what is in the best interest of this country.

    Quo Fata Ferunt

  7. average Bermudian says:

    The OBA government has been carelessly ramming major changes down the throats of the bermudian people – without regard for the bermudian people
    Glad to see this one has been stopped.

    • Onion says:

      The OBA was trying to save money to preserve the financial independence of the country. I’d say that they were acting in the interests of the people while the Unions were acting in the interests of the Union.

      • BINGO says:

        BINGO…the Unions were very self serving when it came time to renegotiating furlough day…now they’re crying fowl at the hiring freeze.

        • mixitup says:

          They could keep 500 Million by not giving away the Airport…. Oh rite, your OBA glasses don’t see that.

  8. biggadon says:

    I find this a just judgement…you just cant permanently take away the peoples right to strike/protest for what ever reason .

    • Onion says:

      They didn’t take away any right. There are laws and notice periods for strikes and the Unions ignored them and acted illegally.

      • Legalgal says:

        But legally you can’t make an order that broad. It was one the government should have been properly advised on.

      • biggadon says:

        Yes your right the chief justice saw to that so no rights were taken…. they wanted a PERMANENT not a temporary injunction…. you have to be fair….yes laws and notices exist that should be given when you are gonna strike but not so much to protest….THERE IS A DIFFERENCE

  9. Triangle Drifter says:

    The unions have been given another chance, deserved or not.

    The next wildcat strike, & there WILL be one, the Government will go straight to court, as they should, & get another injunction slapped on the union.

    They might even try to make it permanent again. The judge won’t have much wiggle room if the union continues to hold wildcat strikes.

    It is like dealing with a child You can warn & threaten. Sooner or later you might have to give a good slap upside the head to make it stop & get its undivided attention.

    • Legalgal says:

      Already an effective strike this morning- no ferry for the day. Nice welcome international tourists and runners.

    • Coffee says:

      Well actually Drifter , the court has done what the Governor refuses to do …. Put these UBP/BDA/OBA bie’s in their damn place !

  10. Oh,I see now says:

    If the finance minister had properly put out his match we would not have had this forest fire to begin with and yes errors were made on the unions side as well.At the cost of sounding vernacular….don start nuffin an it want be nuffin ace boy.

    • BINGO says:

      Sorry but I completely disagree. The Finance Minister is trying to keep the country out of the hands of the unions

      • BINGO says:

        meant to “trying to keep the country out of the hand of the foreign lenders”!! The Minister is looking out for the many including the long term future of the unions, while the unions are looking out for the few.

      • hmmm says:

        …and in the hands of the people.

  11. Evie says:

    Yes Finance Minister respect to Everyone you are the government but that doesn’t mean you can be the bully in the school yard taking everyone’s lunch money besides your ace boys smh

  12. Coffee says:

    David slays Goliath !
    Stupid Goliath !

  13. Coffee says:

    ….. But he has proven to be much to arrogant to eat humble pie . Minister Richards was today forced to acquire a taste for sour grapes .

  14. Oh,I see now says:

    “The Minister is looking out for the many including the long term future of the unions, while the unions are looking out for the few.”

    Really Bingo…..
    They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions too…….ijs

  15. Oh,I see now says:

    The membership from the individual BTUC Union parties upped dues to pay legal fees and as a tax payers they also had to foot the governments bill all because Bob tried a trick shot.

  16. Excellent resolve.

  17. ALVIN WILLIAMS says:

    The jails would never been big enough; IF YOU BREAK THE UNION YOU WILL BREAK THE COUNTRY’.

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