KFCs stay closed as row escalates

By AVA TURNQUEST Tribune Staff Reporter aturnquest@tribunemedia.net UNION chiefs yesterday accused KFC Nassau of intimidating workers and undermining labour laws as the fast-food chain remained closed for a second day. The Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union was certified as the official bargaining agent for line staff by Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes late last night. Management did not show up to open any of the nine Kentucky Fried Chicken locations on New Providence yesterday, according to staff, who were instructed to continue to report to work as scheduled. Breaking a more than three-decades-old agreement, KFC Nassau moved to rescind its voluntary recognition of the BHCAWU on Monday. Although Mr Foulkes has maintained that there are no legal provisions that speak to the terms of voluntary recognition, union officials claim the decision disregarded due process and represented an outright attack on the 300 KFC workers. Staff were given until tomorrow to accept new employment terms and conditions set by KFC Nassau or face termination. BHCAWU vice president Darren Woods said: "The attorneys are dealing with it. We have a difficulty with what they have done. We don't see anything in law to support what they've done. "[On Monday] they issued terms and conditions that if they don't sign by Thursday, they don't have a job? That's intimidation of workers. There are some things that you just don't do," Mr Woods added. Restaurants Bahamas Limited, the Nassau franchise owner, declined to comment further on the matter yesterday. The labour agreement between the two parties expired on September 24, 2011, and negotiations on a new agreement began in December. The "drastic" cancellation to break union ties followed five months of stagnant negotiations over crucial "financial points of contention", according to KFC Nassau spokesman, who explained the decision was the only option to save the Nassau franchise and employee jobs. The fast-food chain has argued that its current wage and benefits package is "two times higher than all other fast food brands". In a release on Monday, KFC Nassau stated that it has offered employees a package that maintains their existing wages and includes a guaranteed 7.5 hour work day. However, Mr Woods said the union had already agreed to no salary increases and had identified benefits they were willing to sacrifice. He added that the new package was never proposed at the negotiating table. Mr Woods said: "The last meeting was two weeks ago. We sent them our position after speaking to employees and the manager said 'I will call you'. The next communication I got was the [cancellation] letter." "[At the negotiating table] they wanted us to agree to a minimum of 4 hours for employees with the management to choose those hours. We couldn't agree to that, we are not prepared to take our people back," he said. Last night, both Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson and John Pinder, presidents of the Trade Union Congress and Bahamas Public Service Union respectively, called for the strengthening of labour laws in the country. Mrs Isaacs-Dotson said: "This has set bad precedent for workers in this country. How can you as an employer get up one morning and say 'ok I'm not getting my way' let's just take away their rights. "Whether it is recognized voluntarily or through the minister, [the company] granted it, there's a process. How can you be that callous and cold with 300 workers?" Mr Pinder added: "I think the quicker employers accept unions as partners and not enemies the better it will be for both sides. "Too often companies look at unions as trying to dig into net profits but we're just trying to get the maximum benefits for our members."


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