By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A veteran trade union leader yesterday said the failure “to understand what compromise means in The Bahamas” had produced bitter industrial disputes that undermined the national interest.
Obie Ferguson, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) president, told Tribune Business that too often parties to labour negotiations adopted a “bull in a china shop” or “my way or the highway” attitude that antagonised the other side and produced protracted battles.
Speaking out as he confirmed that himself and Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, are due to hold a press conference this coming Monday to confirm details of the voluntary separation payouts to some 91 Grand Lucayan managers, Mr Ferguson warned that such confrontational approaches were “not progressive”.
He called for dispute resolution, and associated techniques, to become part of The Bahamas’ school curriculum, and said industrial negotiations were too-often affected by parties taking “intransigent positions” or making the dispute personal through name-calling and threats.
“In any negotiation there comes a difficult period,” Mr Ferguson told this newspaper. “I don’t know of any negotiation where there things weren’t a little rocky at some stage.
“That seems to be the process, but once there’s a commitment to sign a resolution there’ll be a resolution. The only time there’ll be a difficulty in achieving resolution is when you have persons take intransigent positions.
“That seems to be very prevalent in The Bahamas. Instead of sitting down intelligently, determining the issues of both side and what is in dispute, negotiators sometimes take on a personality-driven approach and, instead of dealing with the issues, the parties get involved with name calling and threats and things of that nature,” the TUC chief continued.
“That is not progressive, and not designed to take us anywhere other than conflict and industrial action, which in my humble opinion is not progressive and does not bode well for a country like ours.”
Mr Ferguson said the recipe for successful, non-confrontational industrial talks was for both parties to approach the matter with “an open mind” and understand/respect each other’s interests and position.
“There’s no other way,” he told Tribune Business. “We don’t know what compromise means. In The Bahamas compromise means weakness and incompetence, but compromise is designed to recognise there’s another side.
“You have to factor in your opponent, and your opponent’s interest. If you fail to do that, and go in as a bull in a china shop, and it has to be your way or the highway, that’s no way to negotiate.”
The TUC president said that “most of the time” both parties to industrial negotiations were “on the same page 60-70 percent of the time”. He added: “I can assure you from where I sit that as long as there is a willingness to find resolution there will be a resolution.
“In The Bahamas, if there is a weakness it is in dispute resolution. If I have anything to do with it on a national level I would insist that every school makes dispute resolution part of their curriculum. Dispute resolution is very, very important for our country.”
Mr Ferguson, meanwhile, confirmed that he and Mr D’Aguilar met on Sunday and “did what we have to do” in respect of settling the terms and financial details of the Grand Lucayan managers’ voluntary separation payout.
“We will finalise it all on Monday,” he said. “The workers are very optimistic, very upbeat and, in fact, they’re elated that we have gotten to the point we have. I’m certain we would have gone a long way in sorting out whatever the issues were.”
The Government has increased its collective payout offer by $500,000 to $3.7m, upping this from the $3.2m left on the table by the Grand Lucayan’s Board. In addition, the departing managers will also be able to access some $700,000 that was invested in an annuity with Family Guardian as part of their retirement income.
“We have agreed to pay them $3.7m. They have other funds that are in an annuity with Family Guardian, which they will be entitled to tap into as well. That will take the total payout to $4.4 million,” Mr D’Aguilar said last week.
“This is a good day for Grand Bahama. It allows the employees to go home with a lump sum and prepare for the upcoming employment opportunities that are going to present themselves with the Carnival port and Royal Caribbean acquisition of the Grand Lucayan.”
The voluntary payout for Grand Lucayan managers has dragged on for more seven months, becoming contentious at several stages. The Grand Lucayan’s Board and Minnis administration originally took the position that they had committed an extra $500,000 of taxpayer monies over and above what BHMA members were due under the law in a bid to settle, and were not prepared to go beyond the $3.2m offer.
Mr Ferguson last week said the Bahamas Hotel Managerial Association (BHMA) had some 46 members left at the Grand Lucayan, and “accommodations are also being made for them if and when they decide to sever their relationship with the hotel”.