By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
TRADE Union Congress (TUC) president Obie Ferguson has accused Sandals Royal Bahamian of the “highest level of union busting”, blasting the the resort for its imminent abrupt closure, which he said was almost treasonous to the Bahamian people.
Mr Ferguson told Tribune Business that the TUC was “very surprised” at the Sandals closure notice and suggested that it may be connected to an ongoing dispute with the bargaining unit for the all-inclusive Cable Beach resort’s 500 plus employees.
The Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU), which falls under the TUC umbrella, has since 2009 been seeking to negotiate an industrial agreement. Mr Ferguson announced last week that the union had filed criminal charges against the resort’s top executives for failing to negotiate a new industrial agreement.
“Obviously we were very surprised that the company decided to do what they did,” he said. “This is undermining, this is skulduggery, this is really almost treason on the Bahamian people that we have a corporate citizen in this country to which the government has extended all kind of incentives to do something like this.”
Senior executives at the Sandals Royal Bahamian resort have remained tight-lipped over the purported closure of the all-inclusive Cable Beach resort in less than two weeks. It is understood to be closing its doors on August 15 with plans to re-open on October 13.
In a letter from Gary Sadler, Unique Vacations’ senior vice-president of sales which was seen by Tribune Business, the resort blamed “circumstances” beyond its control for the pending closure and offered affected guests a chance to re-book their stays with any of the resort chain’s properties throughout the Caribbean.
The letter read: “We appreciate your patience as we work through this challenging time. We have instituted a streamlined and efficient course of action for these guests who may be affected and are extending all of our call centre resources to you.”
Mr Ferguson said: “The workers decide to exercise their constitutional rights. Now all of a sudden Sandals is telling their guests that they can go to other destinations while offering them all kind of incentives so that they don’t come to the Bahamas. Now they can be in a position where the occupancy of the hotel would reduce to an unacceptable level. Now they can go to the government and say the occupancy has dropped and we now have to make some workers redundant. That to me is the highest level of union busting and the government of the Bahamas ought to intervene and make sure that the constitutional rights of the workers are adhered to. The union is very upset. The workers are under siege. This company is undermining the entire Bahamas by doing what it is doing.”
Labour Director Robert Farquharson said on Wednesday his office had been made aware of the potential closure through the media but could not confirm validity of such reports. His indication was that labour matters connected to the resort were still being addressed by his department, and at no point were he or his subsidiaries notified of a potential closure.
The Tribune understands that no employee at the resort has been notified of the closure and “all scheduled to work have reported”.
For much of the last month, members of the BHMAWU have used media outlets to express their dissatisfaction with the resort for not recognising it as the official union body in negotiations between workers and the resort. As part of the group’s most recent demonstration, heavy-duty trucks and buses were parked in along the West Bay Street thoroughfare next to the Sandals property, leading to the arrest of several people.
Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner called on the government to immediately address the issue. “The impending closure of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort at Cable Beach for two months beginning in 12 days is of great concern,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The resort employs approximately 400 line staff and under 100 managers. This is a significant staff complement in a tourism economy already reeling from high unemployment and stagnant growth.”
She questioned the lengthy time frame of the closure, the level of salary and benefits workers will receive and whether affected individuals will be entitled to National Insurance Board unemployment benefits.
“Will all of the line staff and workers be assured of employment when the resort reopens?” she asked. “It should be noted that it has often been a practice in the hotel industry to let go staff after the temporary closure of a hotel or resort. When were senior government officials aware of the closure? According to press reports the Director of Labour appeared to be caught off guard by the closure. The scant notice to workers of a mere 12 days is also of concern.”