By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN umbrella union yesterday swore to “level the playing field” between employers and workers in the country, citing the recent layoffs at the One&Only Ocean Club as incentive enough to make life “miserable” for foreign employers who “try to set up shop” in the country without union intervention.
National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB) executive officials, in a press conference just days after 61 employees were terminated for “performance based reasons” at the Ocean Club, demanded that the government “cease and desist” from brokering deals with foreign investors “without identifying that a union will be involved as a part of the process” or without “telling them that you’re going to be coming into a unionised environment.”
NCTUB officials also called on Labour Minister Shane Gibson to fix the country’s labour laws “once and for all,” as well as “bring the pressure down” on the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), which they said has “made untold profits from the workers of this country.”
They also said they would be “going after” the various non-unionised work environments in the country in an attempt to restore balance to the employer/employee relationship.
Regarding the terminations themselves, Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) President Nicole Martin accused the Paradise Island-based luxury of committing a “gross injustice”.
She also said the hotel union is of the view that the terminations were “wrongful,” as she referred to a previous promise allegedly made by the hotel that no terminations would take place during and/or after the hotel’s closure, and that the hotel would “have all their employees retrained and then have a grand reopening of the resort.”
And, NCTUB First Vice President Paul Maynard yesterday cautioned foreign and local employers not to take the NCTUB’s warnings of industrial action lightly, as he suggested that while unionists are wary to conduct a national strike due to the economic implications it may have, employers should not “push us in that corner.”
“The unions can be irrational, but we’re not,” he said. “We are rational people. When we are talking about doing a strike we affect people. You do a strike, businesses lay off people, and so they’re affected. We’re mindful of this. And that’s why we take the time and go the extra mile in order to settle these problems. See, I’m here to deal with the problem. We could do what we want, but what we do affects everybody. And don’t keep using that fact to get over.”
On Tuesday, dozens of employees, including management and line staff, were fired from the One&Only Ocean Club over the hotel’s reported dissatisfaction with unsavory guest reviews about its staff’s performance.
Ashley McBain, vice-president of corporate communications at Kerzner International, suggested to The Tribune that the terminations were the result of poor employee performance at the hotel, saying that some employees were not working in sync with “performance standards that we’ve set in place, not only in The Bahamas but beyond.”
But Ms Martin questioned the rationale behind the terminations yesterday, as she charged that terminating the 61 employees, 52 of whom were unionized, should not have occurred without prior notice to the employees, via written warnings and/or one-on-one meetings, or without notifying the hotel union.
She said in the hotel industry, guest service complaints are typically dealt with “right away,” and, given the hotel’s closure since October, raises the question: “When did these employees perform poorly?”
“There is no way in a hotel, that deals with guests on a nightly, daily, hourly basis, that you’re going to now tell us 61 of your employees were so bad that you had to fire them,” she said. “This is a company that issues warning slips like they drinking water. If those employees were that bad, I could assure you they would not have still been employees.
“My industry, our hotel union is pure service. They give everything. They give their bodies to service. Most of them they need to go to the doctor, they got back problems, they got ankle problems, they got elbow problems, foot problems, our people give everything. And it is absolutely wrong for an employer to just show up and say ‘your service is awful, bye.’
“At some point someone have to recognise that these people are putting a tutu on a pig and calling it something else. This is nothing more than trying to destabilise the union, trying to get rid of workers whose performance is excellent in my view, but you don’t like the pressure that they bring to bear when things ain’t right. These employees were vocal about some things that they thought should have happened for them.”
Meanwhile, union Secretary General Zane Lightbourne said based on what happened at the Ocean Club, the government “would be wise” to ensure that unions are included in negotiations over potential foreign investments in the country going forward.
“We just look at individuals sometimes and we forget how important workers are in this country, none of us can exist and survive and benefit without them, and we need to remind the powers that be that that’s how it is and that’s the manner in which we will address this and every other situation,” he said.
“So all of those deals that we’re brokering, all of those deals that are in the pipeline, make sure the unions are involved, because if it don’t happen now, somebody is going to pay later, and the workers have already paid enough.”
On Tuesday, Director of Labour Robert Farquharson told The Tribune the government was made aware of the planned firings. He said the 61 terminated employees were those who were previously utilised to assist in the hotel’s extensive post-hurricane cleanup exercise, but had become expendable as the hotel is now shifting into its “construction phase.”
Mr Farquharson said he has been assured by Ocean Club Human Resources Director Latoya Kemp that those 61 employees would be reconsidered for re-employment when the luxury hotel reopens on February 14, 2017.