By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas Taxicab Union’s (BTU) president yesterday warned drivers were ready for a “showdown” over “sanctions” being imposed by tourism officials at Prince George Wharf.
Wesley Ferguson said the industry’s latest dispute centred on the Ministry of Tourism’s decision to take disciplinary action against taxi drivers, a move he slammed as “unlawful”. But Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism, said ministry personnel were simply trying to protect The Bahamas’ brand and improve the overall visitor experience.
The union president also expressed frustration that taxi drivers have yet to meet Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis despite his public pledge nearly two weeks ago to meet with them following his return from meetings with the European Union (EU).
“We have yet to have any meetings with the prime minister, nothing,” Mr Ferguson said. “The environment at the dock has become extremely frustrating. We shut down services at the dock and decided to march to the Cabinet offices to see if he would come out and he never did.
“I was promised that someone would call me on Monday to set up a meeting. It’s been almost two weeks since the prime minister came back from the EU meeting and we have had no meetings with him. The situation is just intensifying.”
Mr Ferguson continued: “They have new sanctions at the dock against taxi drivers and there has still been no meetings. The Ministry of Tourism has formed their own tribunal and are trying to manhandle taxi drivers, disrespect them, throw them off the dock, take their badges and send them home. I’m talking about seasoned taxi drivers who cannot make a living in peace.
“They are suspending taxi drivers and putting them off the dock. According to the gazetted law of The Bahamas, the Road Traffic Department is responsible for disciplinary measures of all taxi drivers in The Bahamas.
“Taxi drivers are going to have a showdown all day Wednesday, all taxi drivers everywhere. We were trying to avoid this. I know that the prime minister met with tourism on Monday and now we have this happening. We are going to step up our efforts.”
Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business yesterday that while he understood the union’s position he did not believe there was any malice on the part of the Ministry of Tourism.
“I’m aware that the new taxi union president is trying to put forth the point of view that only traffic officers have remit to speak to the actions of a taxi driver,” he added. “I’m not aware of the specifics that he is referring to, but if there have been words between taxi drivers and the Ministry of Tourism, I would say that the Ministry of Tourism sees it as its job to look out for the welfare of our foreign visitors and to ensure that their experience is what they expect it to be.
“They also what to ensure that those that interact with those foreign visitors do so in a friendly, courteous, polite way using the prescribed methodology established for taxi drivers to interact with the foreign visitors.”
Mr D’Aguilar continued: “I take the more practical approach that we are all in the business of tourism, and if one Bahamian who happens to be employed by the Ministry of Tourism is signalling for another Bahamian, who happens to be a taxi cab driver, that maybe there is a different way to approach or interact, I think we should absorb that push back and criticism positively with the intention of improving the overall experience.
“I understand what they are saying but I don’t think there is any malicious intent here. I just think that the Ministry of Tourism guards its primary function, which is to provide a pleasant experience to our foreign visitors. They very zealously undertake their jobs to ensure that we have that outcome.”