BAHAMIANS from all sides are crying for their electricity bills to come down. Today too many Bahamians, unable to pay their bills, are forced to go without electricity.
With oil prices dropping world wide, Bahamians had hoped that this would have been reflected in their utility bills. Impossible, said BEC chairman Leslie Miller, who on accepting the post of chairman in 2012, had promised Bahamians that he would devote his time to reducing their electrical costs. Although he has done much to reduce BEC’s debt, the corporation still owes too much to allow Bahamians to share in the world’s bonanza – cheaper oil.
Last week, consumers, under the DNA banner, protested by marching to BEC’s headquarters to complain about the country’s “extremely high electrical bills”. DNA Chairman Andrew Wilson said the party will stage a series of demonstrations until the cost of electricity comes down.
Mr Miller welcomed their protest and wished they would bring more protestors with them when they again demonstrate. At least these Bahamians, employers of BEC union members, who are demanding increased salaries, will get the message across that they will not tolerate their bills remaining high just to accommodate the union’s salary demands. BEC workers are among the best paid workers in this country.
As chairman Miller has pointed out, he represents 365,000 Bahamians who cannot afford to continue facing these heavy expenses.
On the other side, Paul Maynard, chairman of the Bahamas Electrical Workers Union — a union of about 600 members – has threatened to demonstrate in front of the corporation’s main office today to show that they will no longer tolerate Mr Miller’s disrespect for them.
Mr Miller is not disrespecting union members, rather he is protecting the interests of the Bahamian people who are in fact the employers of Mr Maynard and his unionists.
Mr Miller has been successful in reducing the corporation’s debt, but has told Bahamians they should not expect to see decreases in electricity cost until “at least January”.
However, should unionists get their way, Mr Miller will not be able to keep his commitment to the more than 365,000 Bahamians whose interests he is trying to protect. Mr Miller has said that BEC still owes a “massive fuel debt” to Shell Western, which was preventing “the people from experiencing some relief”. Shell and the other creditors have to be paid before Bahamians can hope to see any reduction in their bills.
“We spend $385m on fuel and we owe shell $128m so we cannot cut them off until we give them all their money up front,” Mr Miller said.
Despite this unionists have threatened that if they don’t get the salary raises and the contract they want they will see that Bahamians spend their Christmas and New Year’s in the dark. And to add insult to injury there will be no lights on to celebrate the Junkanoo parades over Christmas and New Year. BEC employees will refuse to work the extra hours needed to keep the lights on for this traditional festivity. The unionists certainly know how to endear themselves to their fellow Bahamians when they threaten Junkanoo.
Now let’s look at the larger picture.
When Mr Miller was appointed chairman of BEC in 2012 the Corporation was $450m in debt, or 5.6 of the country’s GDP. The staff’s overtime was $12.7m. From then until September this year, by cutting overtime and other abuses, Mr Miller has managed to reduce overtime by $6m.
Over the past 8.5 years Bahamian taxpayers have paid more than three million dollars — $3,440,012.09 to be exact — in overtime alone to 14 top BEC staff members. Of course, although they might deny it, the union opposes rostering, which if employed correctly could certainly cut overtime. It is estimated that by spending $300,000 to $500,000 to make certain that there is enough staff to man the shifts, an extra $5m could be saved in overtime.
It should be noted that the Grand Bahama Power station conducts its whole operation by rostering its staff. Bahamians are crying for jobs, this will allow the corporation to take on more staff at fixed salaries and hours. In the end it is the most efficient way in which to operate an around-the-clock business. Naturally, the union is resisting this.
It is understood that while the Nassau operation is gradually being brought under control, Abaco, Exuma, Eleuthera and Bimini are completely out of control when it comes to overtime. Overtime on these islands exceeds $100,000 a year.
These are worker without any academic qualifications whose base pay is in the region of $40,000, but on top of that will take home $60,000 in overtime. We are told that often some of them exceed $100,000 in overtime a year.
And this despite the fact that BEC lost $33m this year.
Should the new contract come into effect the management and junior unions together will cost BEC an additional lump sum payment of $4.2m — and this does not include Christmas bonuses which are estimated at more than $1.2m.
Union leader Maynard has declared that when he and his supporters show up today they don’t have to negotiate with Mr Miller because Minister of Labour Shane Gibson and Works Minister and Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis have already signed their contract. This is not true. No one has signed the contract. No one can sign the contract until Chairman Leslie Miller and the BEC board have agreed its terms and decided whether or not to sign.
And so when Union leader Maynard and his unionists arrive at the Corporation’s main office today they arrive with an unsigned contract and demands, which if not satisfied will mean a dark Christmas for their fellow Bahamians.
Remember, Mr Miller, is trying to protect the rights and pocket books of more than 600,000 Bahamians, while Mr Maynard is representing 600 of your employees. It is now for you, Bahamian citizens, to decide which side you support.