By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE hotel workers union is maintaining the proposal it received from industry stakeholders outlined a “zero percent” gratuity provision — despite Atlantis recently stating the industry has “never suggested” eliminating 15 percent gratuity from employees.
Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union Secretary General Sheila Burrows confirmed this to The Tribune yesterday, adding the union will release a report later in the week.
“We know what is in the agreement that they sent,” she said.
When asked if the removal of employees’ 15 percent gratuity was a part of the proposal, Mrs Burrows replied: “If you put zero per cent in the proposal, with no figure, what that mean? Zero per cent.
“In the food and beverage category, fine dining – zero per cent. Gourmet, zero per cent. Busing, zero per cent. Specialty, zero percent. Banqueting, zero per cent.”
Her comments came days after the overwhelming majority of hotel workers backing a strike during a Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union’s poll held on Thursday.
However, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday said talk of a strike is currently “very premature”.
In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar stressed the importance of keeping calm and actually having negotiations, as he noted the “confusion” swirling around the dispute between the workers and Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (BHEA).
Mr D’Aguilar said it is “critical” that negotiations are successful, as the whole country relies on getting this right”.
“If word gets out that there is some sort of labour unrest and strife and people start to cancel their vacations then this is not good,” he added.
Labour Director John Pinder told The Tribune yesterday negotiation dates are set for the end of this month.
He added during Thursday’s strike poll, 98.9 percent of people voted in favour a strike.
The BHEA recently presented hotel workers with its proposed industrial agreement.
A viral video captured the angry reaction workers had to the proposal, with some burning the document during a recent meeting.
The proposal would eliminate the automatic 15 percent gratuity employees receive, it was previously reported. Workers’ holiday benefits would be adjusted; the Christmas bonus would be tied to a hotel’s performance and paid in January, not December. Ham and turkey gifts will no longer be guaranteed.
However, in response to questions placed, Atlantis President and Managing Director Audrey Oswell released a statement on Friday expressing concern about “misinformation that is circulating regarding a process of negotiations that has not yet begun”.
“One such example is that the industry has never suggested removing the 15 percent gratuity,” the statement continues, underscoring Atlantis has always “stood by” its employees, even during the “past six years when there was no contract”.
“Of course, we do not want a strike, but business will go as usual, regardless of how this plays out,” the statement concludes.
When contacted about the strike poll, Mr D’Aguilar said: “It’s very important that the negotiation process starts, is fully ventilated, and a conclusion determined before we even start talking about a strike. I think that talk of a strike at this stage is very premature.
“And given the fact that the employers are claiming negotiations haven’t even begun yet, while there may have been a back and forth on offers, there hasn’t been any negotiations.
“No one’s sat in a room and started a talk about what they can agree to and what they can’t agree to.”
Mr D’Aguilar noted the disparity “where the employees are saying that they’re talking about their 15 percent gratuity and then the employers are saying ‘that was never even an issue.’
“There seems to be a lot of confusion, and this can be rectified through negotiations. Negotiating through the press and trying to unnecessarily rally up emotions I think is not good.
“I’ve said it before: everybody calm down, let’s get in a room, and everybody start negotiating. This is too important not to fully ventilate this process. Employees want to negotiate, the employers want to negotiate, or should want to negotiate. Everybody should want to negotiate. Get in a room and negotiate. And let’s see what the issues are. I think there’s a lot of emotions involved here and it’s very important that the process of negotiations begins.”
Mr D’Aguilar said he “absolutely” has high hopes the outcome of negotiations, noting how reliant the economy is on the hotel sector - not just for direct employees but also taxi drivers, vendors, and other professions.
“And if word gets out that there is some sort of labour unrest and strife and people start to cancel their vacations then this is not good. So it’s critical that negotiations commence and I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves - you can’t conclude that there’s going to be a strike and you can determine whether there’s going to be a strike until you know what is agreed and not agreed.”
Mr D’Aguilar would not comment on whether the hotel’s proposal was reasonable, but instead underscored calls for negotiations.
Mr Pinder expressed similar sentiments to The Tribune yesterday. “I’ve spoken with management,” he said. “I have spoken with the union. I think they have some negotiating date settled for the 27th of this month, 27th of June. Now the problem is this: They have not negotiated anything on this.
“See, unions need to understand this: the employer can ask anything. But you have to negotiate with them to determine whether you receive it or don’t receive it.”
Mr Pinder added there must be a conversation about the gratuity dispute. “Most of those persons are making minimum wage,” he added.