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Union urges gov’t to trim ‘bloating’ in public sector

Union sticks to demands
Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Oct 25, 2013

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Vice President of the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) Sloane Smith said yesterday the government should “trim the bloating” in the public service so that it has the resources to give customs and immigration officers what they are entitled to.

Smith said despite the government’s financial challenges, it should sign an agreement with the union with a deferred date of implementation for its demands.

He spoke to The Nassau Guardian a day after Prime Minister Perry Christie urged the union to be patient over its request for healthcare and benefits for workers.

Christie said he has also invited the union to look at the government’s books.

“Yes, we understand the economic hardships, but we also know the government is put in place to make the tough decisions,” Smith said.

“But because governments operate in five year intervals, worrying about the next election, they are unwilling to do the things that they are paid to do, such as trim the public service.

“If we were to trim it, I’m sure we could find some savings that you can give to people who have a right to certain things. That is the reason we filed the trade dispute.”

Last week, 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.

The union filed a trade dispute with the Department of Labour last week Thursday and has said it would take further action if the government does not resolve the matter by November 1.

On Wednesday, 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.”

On Sunday, Minister of Labour Shane Gibson said the union is being unrealistic and “overreaching” with its strike threat. He said the government will not respond to threats.

However, Smith said the union is not being combative, but has simply stated the legal options it has if the issues are not resolved.

“Nobody said we are going to strike,” Smith said.  “We are simply telling them what the steps are.”

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 it will sit down and talk with you and resolve these matters, you know that we will do so,” said Christie at an election rally.

“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.

Its issues included health insurance, compensation and what the union called an illegal shift system.

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