Video: BPSU President Labour Day Speech

September 8, 2020

“Today we pause to give thanks to those who laid the foundation of Bermuda’s labour movement, to those who continue the fight and, most importantly, to all workers of Bermuda,” BPSU President Armell Thomas said.

Speaking at yesterday’s Labour Day celebration, Mr Thomas said, “Let me first thank each & every one of you for coming out today. We must never forget the importance of Labour Day and how hard those that came before us fought for the protection and recognition of Bermuda’s workers. Today we pause to give thanks to those who laid the foundation of Bermuda’s labour movement, to those who continue the fight and, most importantly, to all workers of Bermuda.

“As we are all painfully aware, Bermuda is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic; challenges that are projected to continue long into the foreseeable future. As the President of the Bermuda Public Services Union, I appreciate that many members are feeling anxious and are understandably concerned about the future.

“The pandemic is having an unparalleled impact on workers’ livelihoods and the way we work. The world of work here in Bermuda and around the world has changed dramatically over the past few months and Bermuda is now facing a new reality that has yet to be fully defined. The hard-fought for workers’ rights and benefits enjoyed by Bermuda’s workers are under both direct & indirect threat.

How do we face these challenges?

“The answer can be found is in the theme of this year’s Labour Day celebrations: Collectively Working Through the Pandemic: Workers’ Lives Matter

“I recognize that a collective effort will be required to tackle the devastating impact that the pandemic continues to have.

“Union members know the principle and power of the collective. The strength of Unions is built on the principle that the power rests in the united collective; when we stand united on the frontline together for the benefit of all, there is nothing that we cannot overcome.

“Undoubtably, there will be daunting and challenging times ahead for all workers and their families, and, as such, it is essential that key stakeholders – the Government, Unions, employers, employees and community groups – actively work together to ensure that the health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic are minimised.

“A delicate balance will need to be struck.

“While the wellbeing of Bermuda’s residents must always be our priority, the necessarily strict measures implemented have caused economic and social shockwaves throughout the community. With the prolonged lockdown, quarantine, physical distancing and other protective measures, the global economy is threatened to slide into a deep recession. In response, the Bermuda Government will have to carefully tailor its policies and laws in an effort to save businesses and jobs, prevent layoffs and protect incomes while also ensuring that no one is left behind.

“Be assured, the BPSU is committed to playing an active role in Bermuda’s recovery. In recognition of the need for a shared sacrifice, members of many of BPSU’s collective bargaining units have agreed to do their part by taking a cut in both salaries and benefits.

“As reported in the press recently, the Public Officers of the BPSU agreed to accept the 10% salary cut on the condition that it is applicable to all Government workers. The Union still waits confirmation from the Government that this condition has been met.

“In keeping with the theme of collectively working together, I take this opportunity to publicly remind the Progressive Labour Party Government of its pledge that there would be a shared sacrifice.

“In a press statement made by the Honourable Premier David Burt on May 4, he stated: “As we are in this together, sacrifice will be discussed with all, worked upon by all and made by all, not just those at the lower end of the economic scale and not just by public officers.”

“Following this public statement by the Premier, the BPSU was deeply disturbed to hear the Minister of Finance state at our recent membership meeting of Public Officers, that he did not support the principle of shared sacrifice. In fact, he said that he did not believe in “shared sacrifice”.

“Despite the Minister of Finance’s utterances, the BPSU implores this Labour Government to keep its promise to the workers of Bermuda.

“The workers of Bermuda cannot afford any more cuts. I forewarn that any further cuts to workers’ salaries will result in wide-sweeping economic consequences.

“Workers are taxpayers; further cuts to salaries will negatively impact tax revenues.

“Workers support of local businesses; further cuts to salaries will reduce their purchasing power.

“Workers are tenants and have rents to pay. Workers have mortgage to pay. Further cuts to their salaries will seriously reduce their ability to meet these obligations.

“There must be a re-balancing of the burden.

“This is even more important given the economic crisis the country is facing has further magnified the inequities in Bermuda. To this end, the BPSU strongly contends that there must be private-sector relief including a reduction in:

  • mortgage interest rates
  • electricity costs
  • food costs
  • health insurance premiums.

“I implore that the Government stand by its promise of a shared sacrifice; the burden MUST not be borne by a select few.

“Our actions during this crisis will be critical in determining what type of society will ultimately emerge from this crisis. Our aim must be to rise a stronger, a more progressive and more equitable nation that is flexible enough to adjust to any future challenges.

“As highlighted in the theme of this year’s Labour Day, this can only happen when there is a recognition of the critical role that each worker plays in Bermuda’s recovery. Without Bermuda’s skilled, trained, dedicated workforce, there will be no recovery.

“The BPSU is actively engaged in helping to structure this new way forward while at the same time, ensuring that workers’ hard-fought rights are protected.

“The BPSU encourages the Government to continue its dialogue with the affiliate members of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress [BTUC]. As key stakeholders, Government’s collaboration with the BTUC will strengthen social inclusion, foster a sense of common purpose and promote buy-in on the way forward.

“In closing, I reiterate that the protection of workers remains our priority. This, however, will not prevent us from working with the Government to find a resolution that embraces the principle of shared sacrifice while at the same time maintaining quality public services.”

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