By NATARIO MCKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas Hotel Catering & Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) president yesterday fired back against claims by Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (BHEA) insisting the union has always been “ready, willing and able” to negotiate a new industrial agreement.
During a press conference at Workers House Darrin Woods, the BHCAWU president said the union’s primary goal is to secure a “registered” industrial agreement for its membership. He also stated the 15 percent gratuity issue was not the basis for which the union sought a strike vote but rather due to several outstanding disputes at the various resort properties.
Russell Miller, the BHEA’s president said last week the hotel union’s impatience to secure a new industrial agreement was “disproportionate” because it had taken more than six years since the previous deal’s end for it to submit a new proposal - one the employers had responded to in just four months.
Mr Woods, however, offered a different take. He said the BHEA had held the position that the union had failed to give notice of its intention to amend the terms of the agreement - 90 days prior to the agreement’s expiration - and that no changes could be made. The BHEA ultimately maintained the only matter to be settled was the duration of a new agreement - with identical terms as the previous one.
Mr Woods said the union disagreed with this position and saw the move as a refusal to negotiate.
“The matter went to court in 2013. A determination was subsequently made in August 2015. The BHEA had indicated that as long as their was no determination in the matter there was nothing to discuss other than the extension of the contract,” said Mr Woods. Mr Woods noted that the courts ultimately ruled in the union’s favour, with the BHEA seeking an appeal. To date that matter has not come up. We were informed that the matter was dismissed and they have an opportunity to refile the matter if they want to, so we wait,” said Mr Woods.
He added the law now prohibits the union and the BHEA from entering into any agreement to be signed on behalf of workers.
“Unless and until the government makes a change to the Industrial Relations Act, we are precluded from entering into an agreement with the BHEA to sign a document that can be registered. We did not submit a proposal to the BHEA. When we brought our platform to our members one of the things highlighted was securing a registered industrial agreement,” said Mr Woods, noting that the union had submitted proposals to each resort, beginning with Atlantis on December 21, 2018 and ending with the Towne Hotel on February 5 of this year. The resorts which are members of the BHEA bargaining unit are Melia, Atlantis, Ocean Club, Harbourside, the British Colonial Hilton, Lyford Cay Club and Towne Hotel. Significantly, Sandals Royal Bahamian, SuperClubs Breezes and Baha Mar are not included.
The BHCAWU filed a trade dispute on April 18. “The reason for us doing this is we saw the actions of 2012 where they seemed as though they were failing to come to the table to engage with this union and therefore we availed ourselves of the rights given to us under the Industrial Relations Act.
Referencing the proposals at the centre of the controversy, Mr Woods noted they contained no provision for the collection of the 15 percent gratuity.
“We were accused of misleading our memberships but we only informed our members of what was sent to us. It would have been irresponsible of us not to inform them. The only thing the union can be charged with is wanting to have a registered industrial agreement on behalf of our members,” said Mr Woods.
While Atlantis management has publicly stated the 15 percent gratuity is not at stake, Mr Woods noted that in its proposal no percentage was affixed to the various offerings such as food and beverage, fine dining, casual dining and buffet, unlike pervious proposals.
“It’s not by chance. You had to go in and change it. Even if it had said zero percent, it has no percentage. It only shows the percent sign. You can’t tell me that was not a ground for discussion because you now want to change something you don’t even pay. We have gotten a glowing report from the hotel industry but you want to roll back benefits when you say things are good? The union is prepared and the evidence is here to show that we were willing and able to negotiate but we had been prohibited at every stop,’ said Mr Woods.