February 27, 2015
Scores of maintenance workers at the Ministry of Works yesterday staged an emotionally charged protest behind the building off John F. Kennedy Drive. This is the latest demonstration by the workers, who have been demanding hazardous pay they claimed was owed to them since 2005.
The protest, led by Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) Executive Vice President Kimsley Ferguson, began around 9 a.m. and went of for several hours with members barring access to the gas station service pump.
Several government employees, who were expected to drive attendees of the 26th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM at the Melia Nassau Beach resort, could not get gas. At one point, a man attempting to get gas got into a physical altercation with a maintenance worker, who refused to move. Police officers attempted to contain the crowd and ordered that protesters not obstruct access to the pump.
When Minister of State for Works and Urban Development Arnold Forbes, Permanent Secretary Collin Higgs and BPSU President John Pinder addressed the crowd, tensions were high. The workers became incensed when Forbes said the matter would be addressed in the next Cabinet meeting.
"We will deal with this on Tuesday at Cabinet and we can guarantee you that if we can process it through [the Ministry of] Finance earlier, you will get your vouchers and be paid," he shouted over the murmurs of the crowd of rowdy employees.
"We are committed to all Bahamian workers. Listen, listen. Once it goes before Cabinet on Tuesday, [the Ministry of] Finance will deal with it very quickly. We ensure you that you will either be paid by voucher before the next pay day or by latest, the next pay day. The process will solve itself very quickly and we include all parties in this settlement."
His statement did little to allay the building tension as workers began shouting.
"Everyone is included," Forbes said. "Hello. Hello. Hello. Please be patient. We have to ensure that everyone in the northern compound gets hazardous pay. Nobody should be left out, the entire staff on the northern compound."
Ferguson said following months of empty promises, the protest was justified.
"In August, we were assured when the boycott of the opening of the Paul A. Adderley building was taking place, that the week after that people would be sorted out," he said. "That did not happen. Shortly before the Christmas, the guys were promised they would be sorted out.
"Apparently that did not happen either. And on a number of occasions we were told that it would be sorted out to no avail. We were promised on pay day, which was Wednesday, that we would be sorted out, and it has not been sorted out. There is no definitive answer or response on when we will be able to get sorted out."
According to Ferguson, hundreds of employees are impacted by their inability to get hazardous pay. He estimated employees are collectively owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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