NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) -- Hundreds of union workers stormed the
Bahamas parliament on Wednesday to protest against privatisation of the
state-owned telephone company, forcing police to bolt the doors of
The demonstration in Rawson Square, in the heart of the Bahamian capital,
turned ugly when police arrested a labour leader. Some 500 protesters
breached police barricades and tried to enter the House of Assembly while
lawmakers were in session.
The protest was the result of simmering anger over a host of government
decisions on labour issues. At a recent rally, telephone company workers
tossed beer and peanuts at Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham as he emerged
"The government can't hide now. The time is for the government to come
now and solve this problem," said Obie Ferguson, president of the Trade
Three people were arrested during the demonstration, including Charles
Rolle, president of the Bahamas Electrical Union.
Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson said one officer was kicked and
someone sprayed mace at police.
The government has announced plans to privatise the state-owned Bahamas
Telecommunications Corp, but was not yet considering offers. Consultants
recommended that the BaTelCo work force be cut from 2,100 employees
to fewer than 1,000.
"This privatisation has affected the morale of the people and so this
government has got to deal with it...The people of the Bahamas are fed up
and he (Ingraham) got to know that," one protester said. "Ingraham resign,"
other workers shouted.
In addition to tensions over the BaTelCo privatisation, union demonstrators
were angered by a recent dispute between a worker and a state-owned
The nation's Industrial Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that mediates labour
disputes, ruled that a woman who was fired after contracting multiple
sclerosis should be compensated. But the Trade Union Congress said the
government has refused to honour the ruling.
The Bahamas, a haven for pirates centuries ago and for rum-runners during
the U.S. Prohibition era, is a chain of some 700 small islands extending from
just off the coast of Florida to about 600 miles (960 km) to the southeast.
Tourism and financial services are mainstays of the economy in the former
British colony, home to about 280,000 people.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.