Nassau, Bahamas — We the officers of the Bahamas Customs & Immigration Departments would like to issue a public statement. The formation of our union was due in part to the culmination of several compounded and unresolved issues.
Firstly, we would like to draw the president of the Bahamas Public Services Union to section 24 of the Constitution that states that: Except with his consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of peaceful assembly and association, that is to say, his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to political parties, or to form or belong to trade unions or other associations for the protection of his interests. Subsequently, the Bahamas Customs & Immigration Departments do not belong to the Public Service Union. By the grace of God and government approval we will achieve recognition. Additionally, we would like to remind the president that he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the government and that he should cease and desist from speaking on behalf the Customs & Immigration Departments. Additionally, in light of the president’s recent statements to and in the media it lends credence to our assertions that the Bahamas Public Service Union or rather the president is not acting in our best interests.
We should like to remind the president that most if not of the public government corporations inclusive of the Water & Sewage Corporation, Bahamas Electricity Corporation, Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation, and The National Insurance Board were and or may have been under the Bahamas Public Services Union at one time or the other. Irrespective of whether they were or not they all have their own unions to represent them. The Air Traffic Controllers, Nurses, and Teachers have all had to travel this road that the Customs & Immigration Departments are now on as they all have their own unions. Most sought to form their own unions for the same reasons. Lastly, the Police who are semi-military were allowed to form an association.
While it may be coincidental we were mindful of the president publicly informing the former Minister of Public Service who was and still is the Member of Parliament for the Fox Hill constituency that he (the president) could seek the nomination for that seat and run against him. Additionally, there were articles in tabloids to that effect. It was also no secret as to which political party he supported. We believe that a union, just like the hands of justice should be blind and even. Irrespective of which political party he supported that information should be kept private and not influence his decisions. These statements were made during or as a result of some disagreements that he and the minister at the time were having. We firmly believe that because of his political aspirations we were, for lack of a better term “sold out”! If he were successful in his bid to gain access to the political arena where would that leave the union as he could not effectively serve two masters? What would his resolve be? Where would his loyalties lie?
Over and repeatedly the departments were found to be in violation of the Industrial Agreement. The officers were made to adhere to it but the departments chose to either ignore whole sections that were not in their best interests or to refer to General Orders (antiquated) when it was convenient even thought the Industrial Agreement superseded General Orders in most instances. Time and again our rights were infringed upon with little or no recourse. Moreover, through research and investigations conducted by our attorney we ascertained that the Industrial Agreement was not a legal document as it was never registered/ratified. Essentially, this document that he proudly boasted about that government employees were made to adhere to is not legal. Moreover, before June 30, 2010 the union is going to renegotiate and extend this expired document that does not exist and make all departments that the union represents (as the official bargaining agent) abide by it while their department heads do not! Anyone may contact or visit the Registrar of Trade Unions /Industrial Tribunal see if the document is properly gazette/registered to verify this.
Shortly after the Industrial Agreement was signed in 2007 the officers of the Bahamas Customs & Immigration Departments became proactive and approached the government via the union to open a dialogue as it relates to a shift system and compensation in lieu of overtime. As a result of certain provisions in the agreement and the fact that there was a possibility that the officers could have been placed at a disadvantage a petition was circulated during the summer of 2007. Officers indicated that once properly compensated there would be no objections to being placed on shifts even though the compensation would not be as much as they were currently enjoying.
Subsequently, the union president and the officers agreed that no agreement between the union and the government would be signed without the consent of the officers and that the compensation would either be sixty percent (60%) of the overtime currently enjoyed or whatever the salary of the police was at the time. The closer it came to the end of the negotiations the less we heard from the union. Several shop stewards attempted to initiate meetings in Grand Bahama and New Providence to force the union’s hand as it relates to information. In some instances we were left with more questions than answers.
Sometime in early – mid December 2009 we received information from a well placed source that the union and the government had signed an agreement. However we were not informed until January. We were not informed of the contents of the agreement. The shift system began on Monday 18-01-2010. It was only days before that our department heads met with us and informed us of some of the provisions of the agreement. We were told of what we would be compensated with shortly before government pay day. There was never full disclosure. Upon obtaining a copy of the agreement the date indicated that it was signed in November. We feel that this was signed without our consent and in collusion. At a meeting that was held in Nassau in January or late December the officers were asked to vote on how they felt and the signed agreement. What was strange was that he asked them to vote on something that he had already signed.
Mr Pinder through various media houses would have the public erroneously believe that all officers have received a seven thousand dollar raise. This could not be further from the truth. The Guard rank received $83.50 per month. The trainees received nothing. The Grade 1, Grade 2 & Senior rank all received $433.00 per month. The upper five remaining ranks namely; Chief, Superintendent, Assistant, Deputy and Comptroller/Director who were not on overtime may have gotten this $7000.00 (that only equates to $583.00 per month) but no officer that worked overtime received this erroneous amount. The figure of seven thousand dollars across the board was used to make the Bahamian public believe that we got a very large amount of money which was clearly not the case. Moreover, the officers who got this sum of money were not on overtime. The whole idea behind the shift system and these negotiations was to compensate the officers who were on and lost overtime (large portion of their income).
Presently, no officer we know of gets this premium that the president refers to. While it may be in the agreement, we do not receive it. As far as the shift allowance goes it was put in the agreement that the union and former government negotiated. However, it was paid before the shift system began. And is only ($125.00) per month.
Please note that no officer has any difficulty with being a shift worker or working shifts. The problem came into being with the compensation in lieu of overtime. Bluntly put, what was promised was not what we received! What is strange and distasteful is the president is the same president who spoke ill of both departments and sought public empathy for his unconscionable deficiency in representing our interest. To tell the public that we are ungrateful, greedy and unreasonable is really a ‘red herring’. What he seeks to hide is his espoused political view and how that has influenced him in seeking fair and just reparations for the removal of overtime. It reminds us of a child caught stealing who seeks to put the blame elsewhere to hide his putrid actions. Overtime was a component of officer’s income. Overtime is a condition of employment and he in tough economic times without our consent unilaterally changed the terms of our employment. It just seems that the President did not believe the officers had an entitlement to reasonable compensation. There was no real empathy or concern for the officers and the untruths and all out desperate attempts to disparage us has been undertaken in every media form over the past two weeks. Another critical factor for his politiking is that the removal of Customs and Immigration from the BPSU means loss of revenue, the credit union will suffer loss and surprise the organization now has financial challenges. Further, guess what his bloated salaries and benefits are now challenged. So it is all about money for the President. Like a spoilt child he now cries out against person’s simply seeking to represent themselves. We thought he was quite clear to say that he has more areas to represent than just us. So what is the problem now that we believe the same thing? Money? So much for our presidents’ sincerity and truthfulness! If he would try and be honest with himself he should simply say he has failed this category of officers.
IN fact, in a meeting convened at Immigration last year December, the president, in response to which officers he took from immigration to these negotiations indicated that he knew more about Immigration that all of us…such ignorance and arrogance only solidified that he had determined to do as he wished. So the meeting convened under the guise of choosing to accept government’s dictate was void of any real acceptance. In fact, in the media the president himself said the officers accepted this and then changed their minds. So editor I ask having changed our minds why then do we have an agreement. It is because as the Prime Minister had said only days before leaving for Europe summit, he and the union would sign the agreement on Saturday before he left. So the meeting to decide acceptance of the ‘offer’ was totally a sham. The president knows this and we challenge him to show proof to the contrary.
Now only recently, he has had a Paul (on the road to Damascus) experience and miraculously has seen the light, and is now seeking to request more funds on our behalf. To ask a rhetorical question, would you want this person/union representing you? Essentially that union has taken us as far as it can and we will go the rest of the way by God’s grace and mercy. Quite frankly, he is grasping at straws as reality has set in. You see Editor, that union has already been served with the same notice that was given to senior government officials. All parties concerned were informed that we no longer wish to be represented by that union. We have ceased our membership contributions and we have already complied with all of the prerequisites necessary for recognition as our own union. Subsequently and upon approval our union would be made the official and only bargaining agent of the Customs & Immigration Departments. This should be a relief to the President. We wish him well and thank him for the level of service rendered.
Officers of the Customs & Immigration Departments