Prime minister tells customs, immigration union be patient
Guardian Senior Reporter
Published: Oct 24, 2013
Prime Minister Perry Christie urged the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) to be patient with the government over its requests for additional health insurance and benefits, adding that the union should take a look at the government’s finances.
Last week, BCIAWU Vice President Sloane Smith threatened to take a strike vote if the government does not provide medical insurance coverage for non-uniformed customs and immigration employees.
The union also wants the government to provide utility and transport allowances for people relocated to the Family Islands.
Smith said the union filed a trade dispute with the Department of Labour last Thursday and would take further action if the government does not resolve the matter by November 1.
Christie said while he is sympathetic to the union’s demands, the government is constrained financially.
“We have been in discussions with the customs and immigration union for a very long time; since we first came to office,” he said. “We have told them we are very committed and prepared for them to look at the books.
“We invited them to even talk to the International Monetary Fund. . .to see what kind of slack we have in the system to be able to accommodate them.”
He added: “We are sympathetic to people who have to go and work in islands and who suffer as a result of it. I’m sympathetic of any kind of condition we place people who have to leave their homes and go to an island to serve the country and have their quality of life diminished.
“The question will always for us be when are we able to accommodate requests given the state of the economy.”
However, before the 2012 election Christie pledged that a Progressive Liberal Party government would resolve outstanding union issues.
“I want to say to labor in the public service, to the customs and immigration officers in particular, to the air traffic controllers union, you know when the PLP says is will sit down and talk with you and resolve these matters, you know that we will do so,” Christie said at an election rally at Arawak Cay.
“You can depend on us.”
The BCIAWU protested in the weeks before the May 7 general election and said its concerns were dismissed by the former government.
Their issues included health insurance, compensation and what the union called an illegal shift system.