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Gibson says union must be realistic

Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Oct 21, 2013

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The Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) is being unrealistic and “overreaching” with its strike threat, Minister of Labour Shane Gibson said yesterday.

Gibson said the union should try to negotiate with the government rationally.

He said the government will not respond to threats and he would sit down with the union if officials request a meeting.

Gibson said the government has noted the union’s announced action and will respond accordingly, when necessary.

Last week, the BCIAWU threatened to take a strike vote if the government does not provide medical insurance coverage for non-uniformed customs and immigration employees.

BCIAWU Vice President Sloane Smith said the union filed a trade dispute with the Department of Labour on Thursday and would take further action if the government does not resolve the matter by November 1.

Gibson said the government would like for every citizen to have healthcare coverage, but stressed that the union should be cognizant of the country’s financial straits.

“We cannot treat any grouping of employees performing similar duties any different, simply because of where they are posted,” said Gibson in an email, responding to questions from The Nassau Guardian.

“I believe that every Bahamian is entitled to affordable healthcare, but we must provide this healthcare with a focused approach.

“We are in the process of introducing National Health Insurance.  The government is presently spending over $100 million on private health insurance for certain groups of employees.

“We have caused significant streamlining of government expenditures. Government revenue is not performing the way we would like it to.  Over 30,000 Bahamians are unemployed.”

He also pointed to other priorities the government must meet with its limited financial resources.

“We have roads between Central Andros and North Andros needing desperate repairs and requiring around $20 million to do so,” Gibson said.

He added: “What about a balanced proposal from the union, showing how we will increase productivity, what we need, how we will pay for it and when is it best to be brought into force.”

Last week, Smith said clerical and other public officers from customs and immigration engage millions of tourists each year, increasing their risk of contracting infectious diseases.

Smith said his union recently met with the prime minister and other government officials.  He said while that meeting was positive, it appeared to be nothing more than mere talk.

He said Prime Minister Perry Christie has the power to make the change without any further discussions.

“There are at least 300 non-uniformed officers – public officers – who are void of medical coverage,” Smith said.

“In the Immigration Department, there are at least 110 people who are not uniformed officers who are void of medical coverage.

“... For the government not to give these people proper medical coverage is discriminatory.”

The union also wants the government to provide utility and transport allowances for people relocated to the Family Islands.

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