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Are Union Leaders Guilty of Extortion?

Unions attempting to block the sale of 51 percent of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) are treading dangerously close to extortion, says one legal expert.

“Holding or encouraging an illegal strike, like union leaders did last week, should be dealt with very seriously by government,” said an attorney who asked not to be identified.

Now, as unions increase pressure on the government, some wonder if threats to hold a general strike, paralyzing the nation over the holidays, shouldn’t be regarded as extortion.

Thus far, unon leaders are only threatening a march on Parliament on Wednesday as the House of Assembly is scheduled to meet.

Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Obie Ferguson has been asked to throw his organization’s support behind the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU), who is adamant about blocking the sale of BTC to Cable & Wireless.

The TUC represents 26 unions with several thousand members, including doctors, nurses, air traffic controllers, mangers at the Water and Sewerage Corporation and the National Insurance Board, and customs and immigration officers.

BTC Chairman Julian Francis told The Nassau Guardian that what the government is seeking to do, in selling a majority stake to Cable and Wireless Communications, is to create an exciting opportunity that will spell significant benefits for BTC customers and further assist in economic development.

“They are going to see that we should have done this 15 years ago,” Francis told the newspaper.

“It’s unfortunate it has taken us this time to get here.”

Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) President Bernard Evans has demanded that the government pause the sale over the Christmas holidays, but Mr Francis said this is nonsense.

“It’s taken us 15 years to get to this point. That’s the way they think. They don’t want to change anything. They want things to go back to the Stone Age, but this is a progressive Bahamas, which wants to move forward.

“We don’t need people like that holding us back, which is exactly what they’re trying to do.”

Curiously, opposition leaders, inlcuding Perry Christie, have allegedly endorsed the union’s actions. This is an about-face from their attitude back in 2004 when the PLP was the government and BEC threatened to strike over the holidays.

The strike was averted in the nick of time, with some accusing the PLP of bribing union leaders to keep the peace.

In 2005, another major strike was averted. Unions threatened a “Black Tuesday” after the PLP government cut the wages of striking workers who participated in a mass demonstration.

“There won’t be any parliament, there won’t be any traffic – it will be another Black Tuesday if we have to go back to Bay Street and that’s the God’s honest truth,” John Pinder, president of Bahamas Public Services Union, warned back then.

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