The Bahamian Minister of Labour, in an attempt to avert a strike situation by the Commonwealth Electrical Workers Union, has met with representatives from the CEWU, as well as President and CEO of the Grand Bahamas Power Company, Nova Scotia's own Sarah MacDonald. According to CEWU president Leslie Lightbourne, the meeting yielded little more than a strike certificate, the document which legally entitles the CEWU to walk off the job after a two week “cooling-off” period.
So far Emera-owned GBPC has not returned requests for comment, but according to Lightbourne the GBPC is attempting to run its own set of rules by the CEWU, in direct violation of the contract that currently exists between union and employer. GBPC's recent firing of a 40-year employee over the spilling of one barrel of oil appears to have sparked off this situation, but GBPC's circumvention of the existing contract is endemic, according to Lightbourne.
Not only this, but Lightbourne claims that the GBPC legal team is now arguing that the contract between themselves and the CEWU is null and void, because it is not “registered”. The argument doesn't sit well with the union, and according to Lightbourne it also doesn't sit well with the Minister of Labour.
“Emera is saying our contract is not registered, but like the Minister told them, 90% of the contracts in the Bahamas aren't registered.” says Lightbourne. “But as long as you have a signed agreement by both parties, both parties are bound to adhere to it. They're saying because its not registered, they don't have to abide by it. But the government of the Bahamas is telling them 'You have to abide by it because you signed it', regardless of whether its registered or not.”
It is a risky move by GBPC, claiming that there is simply no contract with the CEWU because it was never registered, and it suggests that they are willing to force the Bahamian government's hand in the matter. Lightbourne, for his part, doesn't think this approach will fly in a Bahamas now gripped with election fever.
“We are high in the political season now,” says Lightbourne. “No government is going to allow a company to come and not settle the issue.”
In any case, there is now two weeks for both sides to cool off and contemplate.
“The company knows that we are in possession of a strike certificate,” says Lightbourne. “So if we don't get sorted in two weeks, I'm going to call for the strike and we're going to shut this island down.”