DNA, Poitier on Customs, Immigration labor dispute
For Immediate Release
March 12, 2012
The Democratic National Alliance is concerned about the Customs & Immigration Department labour related issues that have brought some rather disturbing facts to the forefront. After a week of protests, the Party had hoped that a resolution had been found, but instead it appears as if there is and was a serious lack of information exchange between the hierarchy and management of the customs department.
According to the government, it was agreed or the process of introducing shifts for Customs & Immigration Officers began back in 1996. In 2006, there were discussions and possibly an agreement with the Public Service Union/Government/Customs Department for the implementation of this shift system, but the general orders were not amended to accommodate a shift system. This is an indication that the Government may have had a change of mind about the shift system at the time.
DNA candidate for Sea Breeze, Alfred Poitier said it is important to note that even if the general orders were provided that the shift system would only effect new employees coming into the Customs & Immigration Departments unless the existing employees collectively agree to work based on the new shift system. According to the international Labour Organization Convention and our Labour Laws employers cannot take a benefit away from an employee unless it is bilaterally agreed to.
It is understood that in the employment letters of Customs Officers hired around 1996 and in more recent times shift work was included as part of the terms of employment. Unfortunately, as the general orders did not support shift work they were subjected to work nine to five, Monday thru Friday and anything outside of that was overtime.
“The question then is since these individuals have been given this benefit from the inception of their employment through no fault of their own in some cases for almost six years is the government now able to revoke this benefit without a bilateral agreement?”
The government has now changed its position and has stated that over-time will be paid to these officers and I am certain this is because they realized that they did not do what was necessary to affect a shift system in the Customs & Immigration Department. According to section 10 of the 2001 Employment Act of The Bahamas, “Where employee is required or permitted to work in excess of the standard hours of work, he shall be paid in respect of such work at a rate of wages not less than-
a. In the case of overtime work performed on any holiday or day off, twice his regular rate of wages;
b. In any other case one and one-half times his regular rate of wages.”
Complaints Customs Officers getting sick due to conditions in which they have to work is a breach of our labour laws and no government should be caught breaking the laws particularly if they have been made aware of it. Section 4 of the 2002 Health and Safety at Work Act states, It shall be the duty of all employers to ensure as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all his employees…”
If these are the main issues affecting the labour situation with Customs & Immigration Officers then they have a legitimate right to protest within the confines of the law. However, the Government should not have allowed these two matters to escalate to this level, as the law is clear on both issues.
“I do not think that there is a real problem with the implementation of a shift system; the problem is the improper way in which it was trying to be implemented,” said Mr. Poitier.
It is important that the Management of Customs & Immigration and its’ Political Overseers are cognizant of the rules of labour and proceed with caution on this matter. It appears as if the Government does not care about the efforts of the individuals who ensure the lion share of revenue collection for our Country.
Mr. Poitier said, “As a nation we are not in a position to allow unrest or work to rule in this department as we are overly burdened with debt that must be paid and can only be paid by the collection of customs duties and other taxes.”
Realistically speaking no area that comes under government should be in contravention of any law. The government should lead by example if the government appears to be mistreating its employees, then how can they stop others from doing the same?
The DNA is asking the Government, the Union and its their representatives to hastily resolve this issue. Publically we are not aware of all of the details but in dialog with Officers the major issue is overtime and working conditions both of which is clearly defined in our laws and by international convention.
“Customs & Immigration officers, we will support and defend you and all Bahamians that are being taken advantage of. We understand your plight and the need to stand up for what you believe to be right but we asked that you continue to perform in your respective positions as the negotiations go on. However, should the appropriate resolution not be met, we the people of the Bahamas will join you in your fight for that which is right,” Mr. Poitier said.