By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Chamber of Commerce’s chairman yesterday expressed optimism that “reason will prevail”, giving the Government a vote of confidence in its ability to prevent further industrial unrest.
Michael Maura, pictured, responding to Tribune Business’ questions via e-mail, said the Chamber and wider private sector were “today cautiously optimistic with respect to the industrial relations environment” despite the multiple disputes that have erupted in both the public and private sectors.
With the Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) adding to the Government’s concerns by overwhelmingly voting to strike yesterday, Mr Maura added that the Chamber has faith they - as well as members of the Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA) and Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) “will be reasonable” over their increased salary and benefit demands.
“We believe that the doctors and nurses will be reasonable, and that they seek a mutually rewarding relationship,” the Chamber chairman said. “I and others in the BCCEC (Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation believe Prime Minister Minnis will resolve the issues. His professional background naturally provides him with tremendous insight.”
Turning to the hotel industry, and the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union’s (BHCAWU) dispute with Atlantis over its new “12-point” disciplinary structure and shift system for housekeeping staff, Mr Maura said it was in the best interests of both sides to work together for the sector and property’s benefit - especially given Baha Mar’s presence.
“Atlantis is a seasoned operator and is very experienced in arriving at a solution,” he added. “It is in the interest of Atlantis and labour to work as partners through the ups and downs. Atlantis is faced with the unpredictability of the business of tourism, and labour understands that there are times when the support must adjust with the ebb and flow of occupancy.
“The labour leadership are also very capable and experienced professionals. The addition of Baha Mar has changed the paradigm and requires a fresh look from both business and labour. We are confident that reason will prevail.”
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business yesterday that while he “continues to be concerned” by the dispute the best approach was to let negotiations between Atlantis and the union “play out” in hopes they could reach an amicable settlement.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak to the union president [Darrin Woods] as yet, and think I should speak to them and engage them to really educate myself on the issues,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “I know that they [the union] already have concerns and I encourage them to dialogue and talk and come to an amicable outcome.
“I’ve purposely stayed out of it to allow both parties to negotiate in good faith. I really have not gotten into the weeds of what the specific issues are. There’s a process the workers go through if they feel the workers are not meeting their demands, and to let it play out is, I guess, the best approach.
“Obviously as minister of tourism I continue to be concerned by anything that will affect our ability to deliver excellent service and deliver an exceptional product, but as far as I’ve been advised the parties have not reached an impasse, are still talking and negotiating, and we’ll let the process play its way through,” Mr D’Aguilar continued.
“It’s obviously concerning but let the negotiations continue and see where they get to.”
Multiple labour disputes have erupted throughout The Bahamas in the past several weeks, covering virtually the entire nation from Inagua in the south to New Providence and all islands beyond.
Trade unions, especially in the public sector, have begun to flex their industrial muscles and put the Minnis administration - which is grappling with an ongoing fiscal crisis and cash flow issues - to the test with increased salary and benefits demands.
While the Government has argued that its strained financial position gives it little to no flexibility in meeting these requests, with public sector unions effectively squeezing a dry carcass, the latter will likely retort that it has been able to find money for other priorities such as the $65m Grand Lucayan purchase.
While progress is said to have been made in addressing the grievances of the Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA), which represents the senior doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) and in the public sector, the healthcare system faces further pressures from both the junior doctors and nurses union.
Strike votes, labour disputes and other tensions have also erupted in the private sector, most notably in the hotel industry - The Bahamas’ largest employer besides the Government. Individual businesses impacted include the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Morton Salt.
The overriding concern, especially among businesses and the private sector as well as the Government, will be to avoid any disruption to the economy that may result from the heated union environment especially as it heads into the key Christmas tourism and retail shopping season.