By ADRIAN GIBSON
In recent years, it appears that some unions are electing grubby little ingrates, position seekers and tunnel-vision headline hunters to front office positions. There appears to be little interest in the members, as these so-called leaders are not seeking solutions to labour issues but instead are contributing to the ongoing mêlée consuming so many unions.
Unfortunately, in some quarters, ascending to union leadership has become the go-to move for political aspirants seeking to fast-track their political career and raise their profile, with many past and current union leaders using a union and its members to fulfil their ambitions and propel them onto the political stage.
The days of Sir Randol Fawkes who, in my opinion, was a true national hero and man of the people, are long gone. Those were the days when union leaders strived for better pay and working conditions for their members - without that penchant for political gamesmanship.
Today, there are many Bahamian workers who are faced with unfair treatment, work in substandard and, in some cases, less than humane conditions and are paid terribly low wages. I am personally aware of instances where employers have been accused of sexual advances, non-observance of Employment Act and standards governing labour in the Bahamas and unfairly dismissing employees without just cause.
No doubt, there are unscrupulous employers who take advantage of their employees to no end. I can see the need for a labour movement and trade unions that fulfil the role of protecting workers and developing harmonious relations with public and private sector employers. However, the state of affairs in the Bahamas leaves much to be desired.
I was a union member for years when I taught in public school. Every month, $52 was deducted from my pay - before I saw it - and sent on to the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT). Honestly, I did not mind. I felt that the then President, Belinda Wilson, was effective at protecting her workers, hands-on and informed, fighting for the best working conditions and, privately, she would inform her members when she could push the powers-that-be no more. I appreciated that.
That said, I am told that members of the many unions that are springing up are poorly represented by rabble rousers who collect a fat salary, infuriate employers with unreasonable demands regardless of the economic state and who could care less about an individual member if they themselves cannot gain mileage from that members cause. How sad! There are persons who constantly tell me that their union leaders are inattentive.
Has anyone ever wondered why persons so rabidly seek the top posts of the largest unions in the Bahamas? Whilst not all of the contenders are lazy louses, a good number of them are seeking the large salary - of more than $100,000 per year plus perks - that I understand unions such as the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union pay its leaders.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no criticism of Nicole Martin, the current president and a unionist who I view as one of the more rational and sincere. That said, there are several others across different unions who the cap fits.
Last Saturday, air traffic operations at the Lynden Pindling International Airport were halted for nearly three hours after controllers refused to participate in heightened security protocols ordered by a United Nations agency.
Newly-elected Bahamas Air Traffic Control Union (BACTU) president Hinsey McKenzie told the press that his union’s members were protesting the new security policy that mandates controllers undergo extensive personal searches at security checkpoints. He said that his members did not take part in strike action but began their shifts shortly before 10am after a meeting with Airport Traffic Control management. The morning shift began at 7am.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a specialised UN agency that sets global standards in the civil aviation industry, has put in place security policies that apply to airports across the globe. The agency was recently in the Bahamas to conduct an audit and recommended that increased security measures were critical for the airport to pass its inspection. The new policy was implemented on May 13, with the condition for a review after 120 days, according to the union president.
Notably, before the policy, controllers were only required to show their work identification card. And so, an air traffic controller could easily have brought a bomb or gun onto the premises or held their fellow controllers hostage, thereby causing major catastrophes.
So, what am I missing here?
Why do they not want to adhere to international standards? Why risk the Bahamas being blackballed by international carriers and civil aviation authorities?
Undoubtedly, air traffic controllers, pilots and other personnel are searched in other jurisdictions on a daily basis, so why would the controllers and their union leader take such an asinine position?
What the heck is this?
What about those persons who were attending funerals, meetings, christenings and other events? Why callously inconvenience them?
And what about the visitors to the Bahamas?
According to a statement from Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna Martin, the following was the result of the air traffic controllers’ actions:
4 flights scheduled today; on average all flights delayed 3 hours
All flights are primarily full and 90 per cent of the passengers are expected to miss connections.
Flight #4511 outbound to MIA delayed
Flight #4520 a 8.08hrs arrival to Nassau returned to MIA and was cancelled
Flight #4521 is delayed approximately 2hrs
Flight #2194/FLL cancelled with 90 passengers onboard
Flight #422/JFK is delayed approximately one hour
Flight #271 delayed approximately two hours, 9 pax onboard
Flight #201 delayed approximately four hours (7.30hrs departure – 56 pax onboard)
She went on: “I am advised that the impact on domestic carriers is as follows:
Southern Air – 1 flight delayed 2hrs
Sky Bahamas - 6 flights delayed an average of 2-3hrs
Pineapple Air - 2 flights delayed to Haiti 2hrs
Western Air – 2 flights delayed 3hrs
Le Air – 1 flight delayed 3hrs
Flamingo Air - 1 fight delayed 3hrs”
The minister also claimed that two flights were cancelled that morning and that there were a large number of missed connections. This is simply unacceptable.
Fast forward to this week and we have John Pinder, president of the Bahamas Public Services Union, mouthing off and threatening to shut down every post office across the country. Yes, I understand that these persons are underpaid and that their working conditions are, many times, terrible. But, do you need to brag about inconveniencing thousands of Bahamians? Is that the only way one could threaten the government?
Frankly, I’ve long held the view that it shouldn’t be mandatory for persons to join unions, as several are simply known for deducting monies, whilst offering no true representation and/or mediocre, dismal service.
It is always perplexing how the leaders and top executives of unions are earning far more than some placard-carrying, exploitable members who, in many instances, earn relatively modest salaries!
A few years ago, there was out-and-out union infighting, rising - at one point - to actual blows being exchanged when attorney and former MP Keod Smith was allegedly smacked in the face while serving court orders.
The labour unions are holding the country to ransom and if allowed to go unchecked, the unions - particularly those of the utility companies (and now air traffic control) - will be too strong for the government. There must be policy set forth to damp down the power of reckless union leaders, otherwise we will have a situation where “the tail wags the dog”.
Who can forget how the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union’s (BCPOU) irresponsible, thuggish tactics held the public hostage with their obstruction of Bay Street, virtually paralysing our main tourist corridors and hindering our already less than adequate communication system.
In 2011, the BCPOU inconvenienced thousands - both locals and tourists - as they (union) boorishly brought traffic to a standstill on Bay Street and at Port Lucaya (Grand Bahama). By blocking these prominent roadways with the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) vehicles - owned by the taxpayers - BTC employees/union selfishly obstructed both natives and visitors on their journeys, disrupted businesses, caused far-reaching financial losses and impeded those persons attempting to visit prominent tourist locales.
At that time, I wrote: “I am unsympathetic to the union members - some of whom were allegedly in a drunken stupor - and their asinine actions that exceeded any acceptable level of civil disobedience, led to the closure of BTC’s offices and interrupted installations and much needed repairs.”
BTC’s workers flagrantly used BTC’s vehicles, which were bought and are maintained by taxpayers’ dollars, to orchestrate an illegal strike and violate countless traffic laws while telling tall tales about the vehicles having mechanical problems. During their impetuous show of force, these workers showed no concern for storekeepers, delivery men/messengers, Surrey drivers and public transportation drivers such as that taxi driver/church pastor (Pastor Rolle) who begged them to move their vehicles as he had a fare. His cries fell on deaf ears.
According to their temerarious leader, Robert Farquharson (now Director of Labour), the union had not been invited to sit on BTC’s privatisation/negotiation committee and was unsatisfied with its status on another, the Privatisation Advisory Committee.
Moreover, Mr Farquharson - while being theatrical and seemingly seeking glorification - even challenged police officers to arrest him, but instead of doing so, they all stood around, wide-eyed and apparently confounded.
The air traffic controllers union’s actions amplifies the need for hiring and training temporary workers (temps) to replace workers when they decide to participate in illegal strikes. In 1981, former US president the late Ronald Reagan fired 11,500 striking air traffic controllers and began hiring and training replacements after they conducted an illegal strike. Of course, this led to the largest labour protest in US history as some 400,000 persons marched on Washington, DC. However, the point was still made.
In the Bahamas, the hiring of “temps” and firing of workers based on poor performance evaluations or disobedience of labour laws would unquestionably send a clear message to unions and discourage wildcat strikes.
I do not believe in union busting. However, I also don’t believe in the employment of nasty, disrespectful tactics that harm far more than the good they supposedly seek.
Comments and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org