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Hotel Workers In Strike Ballot

By Neil Hartnell

and Natario McKenzie

Tribune Business Staff

The hotel union will take a strike vote this Thursday after slamming the industry’s proposal to eliminate the automatic 15 percent gratuity and other worker benefits as “a slap in the face”.

Sheila Burrows, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering & Allied Workers Union’s (BHCAWU) general secretary, told Tribune Business that the recent offer by resort employers threatened to take the union’s 4,000-5,000 membership “back 60 years”.

Speaking after union members burnt copies of the industry’s proposal during a heated meeting at Workers House on Thursday night, she said: “We got a proposal from them but there was nothing in it. We had actually submitted three proposals to them, one under the former president, Ms Martin, and two under Mr [Darren] Woods.

“We recently went to the Labour Department and because of that they sent us a proposal. I think they just sent it to say that they sent us something.”

The most controversial proposals in the offer from the Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association (BHREA), the employers bargaining group that negotiates industry-wide industrial agreements, are elimination of the automatic 15 percent gratuity and delaying the payment of Christmas bonuses until the second week of January.

In addition, the Christmas bonus will be tied to the hotel’s performance, and not guaranteed. Nor will the traditional provision of Christmas ham and turkey by resorts for their staff be guaranteed, as Ms Burrows accused the industry of “taking away all the benefits” previously obtained for workers by the union.

“They want to take away the 15 percent gratuity. They want to change the terms and conditions of an employee,” she blasted. “If you had a matter in court years ago they want to have the right to dig that up and decide if they are going to terminate you.

“The Christmas bonus issue is a very contentious one. We know that the people in the hotel get their bonuses for Christmas; the second payday in December. What they propose is that they want the Christmas bonuses to be given the second pay week in January. The proposal doesn’t say that you shall receive it; it says you may receive it if the resort meets its quota.

“They are being blatantly disrespectful. Regarding the ham and turkey, they say they may give a $50 voucher. They are trying to take away all the benefits the hotel union has negotiated. What are they trying to do to the people? They are trying to do all sorts of things to stop us from sitting down at the negotiating table. We want to sit down at the table and negotiate for our members and we also want a registered agreement,” Ms Burrows added.

“We had a meeting with our membership and they told us to burn the proposal. The proposal was a slap in the face. They don’t want to give a one per cent pay increase but they want to take away the 15 per cent gratuity from the workers. Hotel workers haven’t had a pay increase since 2012.

“The workers are the ones who make the senior management at these resorts look good; they make the hotel look good, they take care of the guests. We are at the point where the membership is fed up. The union is going to ensure that their rights are not infringed upon. The proposal by the BHREA leaves a lot to be desired.

“It’s not right; it takes us back 60 years. We are not playing with them. If they want a war we will give them one. We have a strike vote set for Thursday and we have invited all of our membership to vote ‘yes’. The membership asked us to burn the proposal and we did. We want to sit down and negotiate. We want a registered agreement.”

Thursday’s vote, and the possibility of subsequent industrial action, points to a sharply deteriorating industrial relations climate in The Bahamas that is now threatening to spread from the public sector into the private sector following last week’s sick-outs at the National Insurance Board (NIB) and recent strike certificates issued at the Water & Sewerage Corporation.

Any disruption in the hotel industry will be especially unwelcome, given that it represents the largest sector and mainstay of the Bahamian economy - and is the largest private sector employer. The only consolation is that should strike action occur it will take place after the peak winter season, yet it would still potentially threaten the year-over-year increases projected for the rest of 2019.

All performance indicators for major Nassau/Paradise Island hotels increased by double digit amounts every month in the 2019 first quarter, with room revenues ending the period up 37 percent. And Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, has said Bahamian tourism is “firing on all cylinders” with forward stopover bookings for the April to June period some nine percent ahead of 2018 comparatives.

Neither Mr D’Aguilar nor Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, responded to Tribune Business phone calls and messages seeking comment before press time last night. Mr D’Aguilar said he would call back but never did.

And Russell Miller, president of the employers’ negotiating body, the BHREA, in an e-mailed response to Tribune Business inquiries said simply: “There is a process for negotiations with the bargaining unit, and we intend to fully adhere to that process.”

Some observers will likely argue that the union is over-reacting, given that talks over a new industrial agreement are just beginning, but it appears that the BHREA and its members feel they have the upper hand and are now exerting the leverage that was granted to them by the hotel union’s mistake in late 2012.

The last industrial agreement between the two sides expired back in 2013, and its terms are being treated as if it is still in effect. This resulted from the union missing the October 8, 2012, deadline by which it had to submit its proposal for a new industrial agreement - as it was required to do by the conditions set out in the old deal.  

With hotel union members enduring VAT’s introduction and subsequent increase, and cost of living rises, without a wage increase since 2012, pressure on the BHCAWU leadership to deliver a new industrial agreement has steadily increased. Mr Woods, current president, and his leadership team said securing such a deal was their top priority when they took office a year ago.

Employers may also have been emboldened by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that found the Meliá Nassau Beach Resort was not obligated to pay staff a 15 percent gratuity for serving all-inclusive guests. The resort had wanted to cut it to 8 percent.

Apart from the Melia, the resorts that are members of the employer bargaining unit are Atlantis, Ocean Club, Harborside, the British Colonial Hilton, Lyford Cay Club and Towne Hotel. Significantly, Sandals Royal Bahamian, SuperClubs Breezes and Baha Mar are not included.

While there is a belief that an automatic 15 percent gratuity has undermined hotel industry service standards, it nevertheless represents the majority of tipped employees’ incomes as they only receive a relatively small basic salary.

Atlantis, in a message to its 8,000-plus staff, called for cooler heads to prevail by urging members “to remain focused, dispel rumours and manage emotions” while focusing on delivering “on our promise to create lifelong memories for all our guests”.

Recognising the rising industrial relations temperature, Atlantis did its best to calm passions in a note seen by Tribune Business: “Negotiations for a new bargaining agreement are about to begin with the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union,” it said.

“The Bahamas Hotel Employers Association will be negotiating on our behalf and other member hotels. As in previous negotiations, we have acted in good faith and the company will continue to do so in the best interest of all our colleagues.”

Atlantis added: “During the upcoming months updates will be provided to you. It is important to remain focused, dispel rumours and manage emotions while our resort continues to collaborate with the union on your behalf.

“The negotiations are an important part of our journey towards continuing to strengthen the Atlantis brand, which is our ultimate commitment to you, our colleagues, our customers and shareholders.

“Our leadership team is dedicated to working as hard as we can to negotiate an agreement that benefits all key stakeholders.”

However, “managing emotions” was not on the agenda at the hotel union’s Workers House meeting on Thursday night when the employers’ proposal was burned. A social media clip seen by Tribune Business appears to show Mr Woods encouraging members to “burn that proposal”, repeating this three times.

The phrases “burn that up” and “it is garbage” were heard several times, with one union member shouting: “This is 2019. We will win this war. We will win this war.”

Another social media video, seemingly showing Atlantis staff, promised that the union and its members are “coming out strong” for the vote on Thursday. They warn that the employers’ proposal, if it ever comes into being, will have a knock-on effect throughout the Bahamian economy with hotel staff unable to service loans and other obligations or pay for groceries.

“We see this fight; it’s not about us. It’s about what we’re leaving for our children,” one worker said. They described industry workers as “the backbone of the country”, and warned that “without us this country can’t run” and provide the necessary experiences for visitors.

Comments

Dawes 4 months, 3 weeks ago

It is normal when a proposal is given out for it to be extremely in favour of the person giving out the proposal (the hotels). It is then up to the unions to reply back stating yes or no to certain parts and to add their requests. This then goes back and forwards until an agreement is made or no agreement made. In the case of no agreement you then take a strike vote.You don't get the proposal have a hissy fit and take a strike vote. On the items being discussed above, i don't agree with automatic gratuity or bonuses (this should depend on the year just gone and can be more or less then a weeks pay or whatever), however as it was already in the contract there is no way the hotels can honestly think that would be given up as that is a massive pay cut. For that to happen they would need to increase basic pay to make up the shortfall.

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Sickened 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Bonuses are not a guarantee. Bonuses can also be paid whenever the company/employer decides to pay it. Usually the employer is able to show a profit to its board of directors in order to justify a bonus payment. Hard work should only guarantee a job - not a bonus.

Bahamians have become entitled in their thinking. This is a curse!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 4 months, 3 weeks ago

That Uncle Tom fella, Ed Fields, has the owners/management of Atlantis negotiating from a position of great strength with the union leaders in their pockets. It's now the slow season so the union members have little to no bargaining strength if they strike. LMAO

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Hoda 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Oh all the things we can fight for, we fighting for turkey and ham still. Perhaps a contribution to school fee, better insurance that you have now, I don't know. Just like everything else in this country we don't want sensible people in charge who will be honest with us. Seems like this opportunity is being wasted.

I agree workers should have some benefits. But, the employers are to blame too. I came back home with two degrees. On the job hunt some people will straight up tell you this is a minimum wage offer. Meaning, we only hiring people we can pay minimum wage.

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bogart 4 months, 3 weeks ago

FROM US.....DA PORE UNFORTUNATE WRETCHED...UNEMPLOYED WEARY.........DA CONTINUED DILEMNA.......IS WHEN TWO SET OF LEARNED WELL DRESSED FOOLS START ARGUING.........ONE SIDE DA HOTEL SIDE FOREVER WANTS TO TALK AWAY THE FIXED 15% GRATUITY LEAVING DA INCOME LESS FOR THE EMPLOYEE WHO EXPECTED TO FIGHT TOOTH AN NAIL......Simple.....what the 15% is essentially a salary joined to already basic job salary ....and on top of the service many also gets another tip for performance activity.........Hotel must understand that removing must pay 15% tip included on menu will not budge be removed...its now fixed over time da norm !!!!!! ...Hotel should increase basic salary.with sliding component based on traffick and hotel costs..to survive............remove the wording inclusive on Menu............and let employees earn tips from their superior servicing customers....ita a win for hotel....win for customers....win for employees.......Wasting repeated taking away 15% one threating...one striking year after year is downright stupid

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Bonefishpete 4 months, 3 weeks ago

"Take us back 60 years"? Is that a bad thing?

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realitycheck242 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Why is Baha Mar not unionized ?????. What does the Chinese owners and management have to do with not allowing the 6000 plus employees at that property to join the BHCAWU ???? Their is power in numbers. Any strike vote and possible strike would convince the hotel Employers that Bahamians are serious people and will not accept the elimination of prior benefits.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The Red Chinese owners of Baha Mar would shut down operations themselves (for years if need be) before being made to kowtow or bow to the demands of any kind of organized labour, especially a union of darker coloured people. It's just a cultural thing with the Red Chinese as has been demonstrated by them over the years in many African countries.

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Sickened 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Shallow thinking. All things change, salaries, job descriptions, necessary qualifications, benefits. Just because you get a certain sum today doesn't mean that you will get that forever. Why Bahamians think they can't get let go for any reason is mind boggling. We must change this immature thinking and work hard every day so that we don't get a pink slip the next day. We must call out slack workers as they can bring a whole company down. We must save for the future because we don't know how much we will need.

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Hoda 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Our whole mentality is messed up. Bahamians believe that it is ideal to be working the same job for 25 years. How does that facilitate progress, growth, a growing economy ? On any level, whether its a workers personal accession in an industry or an employers hopes of expanded?

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