By AVA TURNQUEST Tribune Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org KFC NASSAU outlets were closed yesterday until further notice as outraged employees staged a sit-down protest over the cancellation of its voluntary union recognition. Workers were given until Thursday to sign a new contract or face termination, according to staff who said they refused to work at the request of former bargaining agent Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union. Some 300 workers are affected by the sudden move, according to Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, who confirmed it was the first time a company has rescinded voluntary recognition. In a press statement last night, KFC Nassau explained the historic decision to break union ties followed five months of stagnant negotiations over crucial "financial points of contention". "[Yesterday's] decision means that KFC Nassau will no longer meet, consult or engage with the Union on matters pertaining to the terms and conditions of the company's workers," the release stated. "As a result of the cancellation KFC Nassau will be dealing directly with its individual employees regarding their terms and conditions of employment." The labour agreement between the two parties expired on September 24, 2011, and negotiations on a new agreement began in December. The fast-food chain has argued that its current wage and benefits package is "two times higher than all other fast food brands". In an unusual move earlier this month, Restaurants (Bahamas) posted a newspaper advertisement detailing the staff's wage and benefits package compared to its competitors. Staff salaries were said to be between 79 to 92.5 per cent higher than its fast food industry competitors. The notice also suggested that KFC employees enjoyed other benefits not provided by its competitors, including pension fund payments, health and welfare benefits, a Christmas bonus, paid birthday, long service payment and an employee aid fund. While admitting that the cancellation was "drastic", a KFC spokesman explained the decision was the only option to save the Nassau franchise and employee jobs. KFC Nassau said it is now "forced to unilaterally offer its employees an employment package that maintains their existing wages and a guaranteed 7.5 hour work day". It was also added that a voluntary severance package will be considered for staff that do not want to work under the new terms. A KFC worker described the move as a "tremendous setback" for long-standing employees whose hard-earned benefits would be slashed. "Employees are getting nine sick days a year [under new contract]," he said. "I've been there 15 years and they want to put me back to two weeks rather than four weeks and they're forcing us to sign these contracts by Thursday." The employee added: "They might as well pay us out and let us go. We grew old in there, people like me and they treat us like dogs." By law, a union can only be recognised as a bargaining agent through direct application to the employer, and then if unsuccessful, an application can be made to the labour minister, who would then poll staff. Mr Foulkes said: "There are no provisions that speak to a revocation if it is given voluntarily. The Industrial Relations Act only speaks to a revocation where the Minster certifies the recognition. This to my recognition has never happened before." A formal application by the BHCAWU was not submitted yesterday; however Mr Foulkes said he understands that the union intends to seek certification. BHCAWU vice president Darren Woods was unable to comment as union officials were locked in meetings with Mr Foulkes late last night.
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