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Battle Between Unions and Government Escalates

The war of words between the government and unions regarding the sale of BTC to Cable & Wireless has intensified with union leaders calling the prime Minister “arrogant” and the government accusing union leaders of talking “nonsense.”

Union leader William Carroll, speaking at a press conference yeasterday, suggested that the government is preparing to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding with Cable & Wireless, incorporating changes from the original document.

“We get some sip sip going that government supposed to be signing a next, a binding MoU with Cable, and Wireless sometime this week,” said Carroll, President of the Bahamas Communications and Public Managers Union.

The union boss hinted that, due to the pressure from unions opposed to the sale, C&W might back away from the deal and government wanted something more “binding”.

That comment was refuted by State Minister for Finance Zhirvargo Laing who confirmed that no changes have been made to the original MoU signed between the Government and Cable & Wireless on December 1.

A local newspaper quoted Mr Laing as saying that such speculation was “utter nonsense.”

Laing said the government is merely finalising the contract with the telecommunications company which is expected to be signed later this month. The sale should be completed by mid-February.

“There is no refined or new MoU,” Laing told the Tribune.

Mr Carroll wasn’t the only union leader taking potshots at the government. Denise Wilson, secretary general of the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPDU) accused Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of being arrogant.

“The prime minister is belligerent and arrogant enough for this to be a done deal, but ultimately Bahamians own BTC and Bahamians own the government,” said Wilson, speaking at a news conference at BCPOU headquarters on Farrington Road.

“Bahamians determine who sits in the seat of power and we are approaching a very critical time and I will admonish politicians to be mindful of the time that we live in because as far as we know, Bluewater was a done deal too and they done finish.”

Perry Christie’s Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration came very close to selling 49 percent of BTC to a mysterious company named Bluewater Ventures Limited. The company was allegedly a front operation for certain PLP members looking to rifle control of BTC. Fortunately for Bahamians, the PLP lost the 2007 general election. The Ingraham administration did not follow through with the sale.

Union leaders are also demanding the resignation of BTC Chairman Julian Francis, who challenged union leaders to a debate, then withdrew the offer.

“What is Mr Francis afraid of? Is he afraid he will lose the debate? Is he afraid the Bahamian people will find out the truth about the bad deal with Cable & Wireless? Mr Francis must either debate or resign.,” said Mr Carroll.

Adding to the rhetoric, Bernard Evans, BCPOU president, said the unions would continue to oppose the sale.

Evans said the unions will now embark on “phase two” of their plan, holding a town meeting tonight in an attempt to to force the government to rethink its position on the $210 million sale to Cable & Wireless.

A mass rally is scheduled for next Monday and unionists say they will not give up the fight to block the “bad”  deal.

The unions have marched, protested and even threatened a general strike in conjuction with the National Congress of Trade Unions of the Bahamas, (NCTUB) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

When Evans was questioned as to whether the unions have the power to stop the deal, he emphatically said yes.

“We sure as hell are going to try. We are not going down without a fight. We believe that this is worth fighting for BTC belongs to every Bahamian.”

The government has not yet made public the MoU it signed with CWC. Mr Ingraham has said that the document will be tabled in the House of Assembly on January 19.

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