By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Electrical Workers Union President Paul Maynard yesterday backed the government’s proposed amendments to the country’s labour laws, calling the gripes expressed by business owners an over reaction to necessary change.
In an interview with The Tribune, the outspoken unionist applauded the efforts of the government to “protect Bahamians”, insisting that those opposing the moves are simply, “childish and stupid”.
Employers across the country have expressed opposition to the proposed changes since the amendments were tabled in the House of Assembly last Wednesday.
Tribune Business on Monday reported that the nation’s biggest employers, including some of the largest hotels, are mulling whether to impose a wages and hiring freeze in retaliation for the government’s decision to force the amendments “down our throats”.
This followed reports that The Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant
Employers Association (BHREA) planned to meet to form a workable strategy and way forward, declaring this issue is a must-win battle.
In response, Mr Maynard said yesterday: “This is a redundancy situation to make it better for when you are leaving. This is does not affect the bottom line unless you lay people off. How will this affect? How will it have a crippling impact?”
“They crying wolf? The sky is not falling?”
He continued: “They complained about minimum wage being raised too. What are they crying for? They are only thinking of themselves, no one else.”
Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller referred to The Tribune Business article during the evening session of the House on Monday.
Mr Miller cautioned the government over the proposed amendments, seeming to side with employers, suggesting that “serious repercussions” could occur if the Christie administration could not find a middle ground between the proposed amendments and current laws.
“I am not trying to take sides in this, I want to be fair,” Mr Miller said.
“I want us to realise what could happen tomorrow. I am just simply saying don’t go beyond the (point) of no return. The road is not good, and don’t think that these people don’t have power. Don’t fool yourself.
He continued: “We can do anything in here and they may say ‘you are shoving it down my throat’ and they make you pay a cost.”
Of Mr Miller’s plea, Mr Maynard said: “Leslie Miller, he is a goddamn liar, he is childish, he messed up BEC and he needs to get over it and stop wearing panties and put on underpants. He is childish and stupid.”
Said Mr Maynard: “This is just for protection for people if they are made redundant, so it’s not going to harm the business, tell them stop lying, unless they plan on making someone redundant and if they do it then they should pay people fairly. The point is if people are made redundant you must pay the price.”
“The unions are not unreasonable; I am reasonable there is nothing wrong with this bill you have to protect Bahamians, you cannot just get rid of people and not pay them.
“Properly evaluate your staff every year,” he said, “and if they fall short deal with them. But do not just fire a bunch of people because you don’t like them and make them redundant.”
The amendments to the Employment Act seek to address redundancy pay to employees; options for rehiring in times of redundancies; and the implementation of provisions that protect employees in the event of being made redundant.
Additionally, the government aims to implement a new 32-week cap for line staff employed up to 12 years with an employer.
Line staff are currently entitled to a maximum 24 weeks or six months redundancy pay under the Employment Act, gaining two weeks for each year they have been employed up to the 12-year ‘cap’.
However, the amendment requires the ‘cap’ to be increased to 32 weeks (16 years) immediately upon enactment of the reforms. And, ultimately, the ‘cap’ for line staff redundancy pay is to be increased to 40 weeks some two years after the amendments are passed.
As for managerial staff, redundancy pay would go from the existing 48 weeks/12 months entitlement to 60 weeks, effective immediately, and then to 80 weeks two years after enactment.
Meanwhile, as it relates to the Industrial Relations Act, the government is looking to improve issues related to industrial agreements, union relations and matters dealing with the resolution of disputes between unions and employers.
Many of the issues addressed in these amendments are issues contested by unionists for much of the last decade.
In 2015, Trades Union Congress (TUC) president Obie Ferguson called for a “complete revamp” of key labour legislation because employers were now insisting on the “letter of the law” with respect to union and industrial agreement registration.
At that time Mr Ferguson contended that outdated and passive wording in laws allowed employers to mistreat employees and work around major labour best practices.
Roughly one year later, Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort terminated more than 600 employees by making their posts redundant.
Sandals’ actions prompted Director of Labour Robert Farquharson to urge the National Tripartite Council (NTC), which he co-chairs, to agree to his department’s recommendations seeking to change the country’s laws by making it illegal for an employer to terminate more than ten employees without notifying and consulting the government at least 60 days before its proposed action takes effect.
The Department of Labour also wanted the NTC to agree to recommendations that would lift the cap on how many years severance pay employees will be entitled to from 12 to 30.
The move is likely to have set in motion the amendments presented to Parliament last week.