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Tensions rise over BEC pay

Miller dares union to strike
  • Stephano Greene. FILE

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: May 10, 2013

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The Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU) has taken legal action to remove a rostering system recently implemented at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), BEWU President Stephano Greene has confirmed.

But BEC Chairman Leslie Miller warned yesterday that ongoing demands of the union could lead to job losses at the corporation.

“I am hoping they go on strike. This whole thing has to change,” Miller told The Nassau Guardian.

Miller said union officials believe the government would do what they want because of the threat of power being turned off.

“I dare them to turn one light off, just one, and whoever is responsible will never walk back on BEC’s premises. I don’t care who it is, I will not allow them.”

Line staff at the corporation have been going head to head with Miller for several months over issues regarding overtime and the shift system implemented in March.

According to Greene, attorneys for the union have filed action in the Supreme Court.

“We were in negotiations with the corporation on our industrial agreement,” he said following a meeting with executive management yesterday.

“Rostering and flexi-time was a part of their proposal, and we were at the table negotiating when the corporation went ahead and implemented rostering without an agreement.

“Because of that we consulted our lawyers and asked them to give us their legal advice as to the best avenue to address it, and they advised us that the best avenue would be to file an injunction against the corporation for what we consider is an illegal implementation of rostering.”

In a separate interview, Miller called the development “disingenuous” and said he learnt of the legal action on Monday.

He told The Nassau Guardian the union is also seeking to force the corporation to pay rostered employees an allowance of $75 per week.

“They just don’t stop,” Miller said.  “They don’t know when enough is enough.

“Even though we are trying to keep everyone onboard [despite] paying this enormous salary, paying this enormous overtime.

“These people really believe that this corporation belongs to them, and they will get what they want, when they want it, even to the detriment, not only of the Bahamian people, but even to some of their membership, who will not be at BEC if they insist on pushing this through.

“I am telling them right now, people will be disaffected from BEC if they insist on these additional monies that BEC doesn’t have.

“The easiest way to pay a bill is to let some people go. Now if they don’t mind eight or 10 of their union members being displaced, it shows you the callousness of their ways.”

But Greene insisted a clause in the union’s now expired industrial agreement regarding the allowance should be honored by the corporation.

“That’s contractual and if there is something in the contract no one can unilaterally decide whether or not they are going to pay,” he said. “If it is contractual, you have to pay.”

Asked whether the union is prepared to compromise, Greene said the union’s agreement is binding by law and no one can change the terms and conditions without its agreement.

Miller said while he recognizes the union’s contract, both sides should compromise given BEC’s financial position.

He said the corporation should not have to pay any employee additional money to work the same hours.

BEC has been losing money for years. In March, Miller revealed in the House of Assembly the corporation lost $12.7 million in the first quarter of this fiscal year.

He said it was on track to lose up to $50 million at the end of this year.

Last year, BEC lost $18 million.

As it relates to overtime pay, last year the corporation paid in excess of $11.8 million, according to a report conducted by auditors.

Miller revealed that in the last seven months alone BEC has paid out $2 million in overtime to employees on the Family Islands.

He said while the corporation should realize a $4 million reduction in overtime pay at the end of this fiscal year, if managers cannot keep overtime under control some of them may also have to be replaced.

According to Miller, a cashier supervisor took home $72,000, which included $28,000 in overtime pay.

“And these are the people who [are] raising hell, threatening you, threatening your future,” he said.

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