By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The hotel union yesterday signalled it was prepared to “compromise” with Baha Mar over the Melia gratuity dispute, provided its members suffered no reduction in their ‘take home’ income.
Darren Woods, the union’s general secretary, told Tribune Business it had informed Robert Farquharson, director of labour, that executives were prepared to meet Baha Mar and Melia’s operator for further negotiations before receiving ‘certification’ confirming their recent strike vote.
But he accused both the developer and resort of using Melia staff as “pawns”, adding that the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) could not agree to a situation where employees suffered a reduction in their living standards.
Speaking after Supreme Court Justice Roy Jones extended the injunction that bans all forms of industrial action over the Melia dispute until February 11, Mr Woods said Wednesday’s decision would have little impact on the situation.
He explained that both Mr Farquharson and Shane Gibson, minister of labour and National Insurance, had yet to ‘sign off’ on certification for the union’s recent strike vote.
This is required to confirm that the vote was valid, and followed all necessary legal processes. And, with a ‘cooling off’ period likely before the union can follow through on the vote’s outcome, Mr Woods confirmed that industrial action was not imminent.
“There’s only so long the injunction can last in any event,” he told Tribune Business. “We’re just waiting to see, once we get the certification in our hands, what the minister and director of labour have said. It’s not as if we’ll go out on industrial action next day.”
And it appears as if talks between the union, and Baha Mar/Melia, will resume shortly - an outcome both sides say they want.
Mr Woods disclosed that Mr Farquharson had called the union, asking if it was prepared to meet the employer prior to receiving the strike vote certification.
“It looks as if we’ll get back to the table soon,” he confirmed. “We told him: ‘No problem’. We always wanted negotiations.”
On this issue, at least, the two sides appear to be on the same page. Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president for government and external affairs, told Tribune Business yesterday that the resort owner and Melia were prepared to meet with the union at any time, and for as long as it took, to reach an amicable solution on the gratuity issue.
Mr Woods, in response, said Baha Mar was essentially imitating the union’s previously announced approach to negotiations, and accused it of trying to win the public relations (PR) battle via the media.
He said that at the last face-to-face meeting between the two sides, which lasted for between 30 minutes to an hour, the union made a proposal which Baha Mar executives said they needed time to consider.
But another area where the two sides have common ground is the suggestion that there are “no winners” in the gratuity dispute - a position first articulated by Mr Sands on Baha Mar’s behalf.
“I agree that there are no winners and we’re going to have to compromise on this thing,” Mr Woods told Tribune Business. “But they’re using the employees as pawns.
“We can’t agree to a position where the employees jump, and the hotel makes out like a bandit.”
The union general secretary hinted that the BHCAWU might, though, be prepared to agree a solution where workers’ base pay was increased to compensate for any reduction in gratuities.
“At the end of the day, our position is that if they’re able to maintain what the employees take home, we have no difficulty with it,” Mr Woods told Tribune Business. “The method they’re proposing, they’re obviously reducing what the employees take home.
“We’re prepared to move, but if they’re talking about an all-inclusive system, and a two-tiered proposal, we’re willing to look at it as long as employees maintain their standard of living at the end of the day.”
Tribune Business understands the dispute revolves around the calculation and allocation of gratuity payments between employees and the Melia’s all-inclusive resort component, which it is aiming to increase from 50 per cent of the property to 85 per cent.
Mr Sands previously told Tribune Business that the Baha Mar/Melia proposal would “normalise” the gratuity scheme and ensure the benefits were shared more broadly and equitably.
He added that “there are a number of workers making a disproportionate amount in tips in relation to the majority of staff”.
Tribune Business previously revealed how Baha Mar and Melia’s operator raced before the Supreme Court on Christmas Eve to obtain an injunction to block all forms of industrial action.
The injunction’s terms were 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 has effectively stripped the hotel union of all industrial-related leverage in relation to the gratuity negotiations.
However, Baha Mar argued that it was left with little choice, after 10 months of negotiations produced no agreement, with it then having to tolerate two illegal work stoppages.
The resort owner is also arguing that the gratuity method needs to be changed to ensure the Melia remains