By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar and its Melia resort have obtained a Supreme Court injunction that bars the hotel union from taking any form of industrial action, leaving workers without any leverage over their gratuity dispute.
Documents seen by Tribune Business show that Baha Mar and Melia’s operator raced before the court on Christmas Eve, where they obtained the injunction from Justice Roy Jones at a hearing where only their attorneys were present.
The injunction’s terms are designed to be ‘watertight’, and prevent the hotel union from initiating any form of industrial action. It cannot even tell its members to withdraw their labour by staying at home.
The injunction, seen by this newspaper, prevents the union - and all its executive officers and members - “from inciting and/or inducing any employees of the Melia from abstaining from work, or from picketing or besetting the Melia, or intimidating employees of the Melia or its guest whosoever, or from in any way impeding employees of the Melia from attending work”.
The timing of the move by Baha Mar’s Cable Beach Resorts affiliate, and Melia’s operator, was likely intended to ensure there was no industrial-related disruption at the hotel during the Christmas/New Year period - one of its busiest seasons.
Apart from negatively impacting guest experience, any strike action could have resulted in long-term damage to the reputation of both Baha Mar and Melia.
The all-encompassing nature of the injunction, obtained for Baha Mar and Melia by Harry B Sands & Lobosky partner, Ferron Bethell, is such that it impacts non-parties to the action.
Its terms warn that persons aware of the injunction, and who breach its terms, will be guilty of contempt of court and subject to “imprisonment, fines or having their assets seized”. Such sanctions would thus apply to Melia staff who act on their own accord, and not at the union’s behest.
Darren Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union’s (BHCAWU) general secretary, told Tribune Business the union was “very surprised” by Baha Mar’s injunction action.
And he conceded that it had left the union, and its members at Melia, virtually impotent, and with no industrial unrest-related leverage over the gratuity situation.
“That is taking away the only thing the employees have, which is to withdraw their labour,” the hotel union general secretary told Tribune Business of the injunction. “That’s why we want to get it resolved as quickly as possible.
“It just says that we can’t strike, picket or do anything. It’s not directly related to the gratuity; it’s a kind-off spin-off. If anything happens, we can’t do anything in relation to that.”
Mr Woods pledged that the union would seek to overturn the injunction, or alter its terms, at a hearing where both sides’ attorneys will be present on Wednesday, January 14.
Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president for governmental and external affairs, confirmed to Tribune Business that the developer and Melia Nassau Beach’s operator, New Continent Ventures, had obtained the injunction.
In a subsequent release sent to this newspaper, Melia said it had “tolerated two recent illegal work stoppages” orchestrated by the hotel union over its plans to reduce the gratuity rate.
Both Melia and Baha Mar said they had opted not to take legal action over the work stoppages, which would have impacted “hundreds of employees and their families”, instead opting for the injunction approach.
“In order to preserve jobs and sustain our business, we can no longer tolerate any such illegal union actions,” they said.
“We have obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court to stop the union from calling an illegal work stoppage, and to prevent other illegal industrial actions that hurt our employees, their families, our guests and the viability of the hotel.
“Any employee who participates in an illegal work stoppage would be subject to consequences, including possible arrest and immediate dismissal. If the union persists in this course of action, it is breaking the law and jeopardising the jobs of every single worker at Melia.”
Melia and Baha Mar reiterated that they had been unable to reach agreement with the hotel union, despite negotiating for 10 months, over a new gratuity rate that would be charged to the hotel’s guests.
The resort wants to reduce the standard 15 per cent gratuity rate because it is moving to an all-inclusive model where, in common with the likes of Sandals and Breezes, rooms, food and amenities are covered in one price.
“As is customary in the hotel industry, including in the Bahamas, the gratuity rates for all-inclusive guests are calculated differently from gratuity rates paid for standard European-plan guests, who pay separately for each meal and certain amenities,” Melia and Baha Mar said.
“The industrial agreement with the union specifically contemplates a negotiation of special gratuity rates for all-inclusive resorts.”
While that industrial agreement expired almost two years ago, both Messrs Woods and Sands previously confirmed to Tribune Business that both the resort industry and union are operating as if its terms are still in force.
Melia and Baha Mar, meanwhile, said that in the absence of an agreement with the hotel union, the resort was unable to calculate, then pay out, the gratuities due to employees.
As a result, it has been paying gratuities - at the all-inclusive rate - into a separate escrow account where they will be held until an agreement is reached with the union. Once that happens, the monies will be disbursed to the employees.
“This is a difficult decision; we do not want to cause any hardship for our employees. We have been forced into this position to keep the hotel economically viable,” Baha Mar and Melia said, acknowledging that gratuities make up the majority of tipped employees’ income.
Mr Woods, too, emphasised that it was important the issue be resolved speedily, given the impact any “adverse change to the gratuity” had on the union’s members.
He added that the union was now waiting on the promised intervention by minister of labour, Shane Gibson, and his director of labour, Robert Farquharson.
Mr Woods said Melia was not becoming a 100 per cent all-inclusive property, telling this newspaper that “some of the things they’re trying to do don’t add up”.
“I think they want a bigger share of the gratuity when it becomes all-inclusive, because I guess they recognise how important the gratuity is for employees,” he added.