By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The hotel union yesterday warned "another fight" is brewing over the decision by Atlantis to switch from a weekly to bi-weekly staff payroll, a top official saying: "It's not sitting well."
Harrison Williams, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) first vice-president, told Tribune Business that it was an "abuse" for Atlantis to seek the change when the union was in the middle of negotiations with employers for an industry-wide industrial agreement.
He argued that the resort was merely following the lead of its fellow Paradise Island resort, the Four Seasons-branded Ocean Club, which last year withstood the hotel union's bid to challenge its own switch to a bi-weekly payroll.
Mr Williams spoke out after Tribune Business obtained a letter from Sheila Edden-Burrows, the hotel union's general secretary, to all members advising them that "we have not agreed with the Atlantis payroll change from weekly salary to a bi-monthly salary cycle".
However, Audrey Oswell, Atlantis's president and managing director, in a statement sent to Tribune Business last night argued that he switch to a bi-weekly payroll would bring the resort "in line with industry standards and generally-accepted business practices".
She said: "We greatly value our employees’ contributions, and are committed to continuing to make our resort a great place to work. We recently notified the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union about plans to transition to a bi-weekly payroll schedule in line with industry and standards and generally accepted business practices.
"All employees will receive the same terms and benefits. We are committed to ensuring a smooth transition by providing our employees with significant advance notice to prepare for the changes."
But Mr Williams countered: "The management had sent us that memo that they would like to go bi-monthly, and we haven’t had a conversation with our members. That would have been something chipped off of the Ocean Club issue, where the persons are being forced now to be paid every other two weeks.
"It’s not something sitting well with the union because we do have members who are working reduced days. They would now be waiting two weeks for three days' pay. So that’s not something easy that the union can put their head around and say we agree to it."
Revealing that a meeting has been scheduled with Atlantis management to discuss the matter, Mr Williams said: “We are supposed to be having a scheduled meeting with the Atlantis seniors, Russell Miller (executive vice-president of hotel operations) and those. Then we will be able to say exactly what we’re doing. But the union doesn’t agree with it.”
Mr Miller said the union's claims about not being fully informed of the payroll change are "not accurate". He added: "I had a conversation with the president (Darrin Woods) notifying him that we are going to make the change.
"We have a meeting with the officers this week in his absence, and we will continue to discuss it. But there has been discussion, and also we followed up with a letter to the union notifying them that this is what we plan to do. The meeting is going to be either on Wednesday or Thursday.”
Mr Williams, told Tribune Business, however, “The date hasn’t been set yet. They had sent us a letter dated January 24 where they wanted to talk about it, but we haven’t agreed to anything and they do have a deadline here when they want to put it into effect.
"They want to do that at the end of April, but again that’s a conversation to have. Because don’t forget that you have people who have deductions weekly out of their money, and all of these things have to be cleared up.
"Apparently Atlantis would have said in meeting that they don’t believe in it because they know how their employees are being at work, but after Ocean Club got away with it in court I guess Atlantis feels they can do the same. So it’s a discussion to be had and we haven’t had that discussion yet," Mr Williams added.
"Right now in our [expired industrial] agreement employees are to be paid weekly, and we would prefer it to remain that way. This is something we are going to look at very seriously,
and as soon as the meeting is scheduled to be held we will see how quickly we can have this matter resolved.”
Mr Williams said the switch to a bi-weekly payroll had never come up in talks for an industry-wide industrial agreement. Warning that this is “going to be another fight,” he added: "In all honesty there are only two areas that are guaranteed weekly work in the hotel, and that’s engineering and front desk.
"Once the hotel is 65 percent full the front desk and engineering automatically work five days. That’s a guarantee for them, but that’s not for food and beverage; it’s not guaranteed for food and beverage. So the hotel can be running at 65 percent occupancy and employees are still working two or three days in the food and beverage.
"Their base salary, to be honest with you, is low and the 15 percent is set to enhance their base salary. If they work one to two days they basically still go home with peanuts. I don’t know what deal or contract that the hotel would cut with the banks to allow them to be paid every two weeks, but to me it's dangerous because they could be charged with late fees.
"Every other week that the deduction isn’t coming out because the money isn’t there, and people are working day-to-day, people are working from salary to salary. This is not something that the union can say yes to. The most we can say is wait until we meet and have a clear discussion on what exactly is going on and we can inform our members.”
When asked by Tribune Business if the union is planning any industrial action as a result of this latest move, Mr Williams said: “We are not planning any action at this time. We would do the honourable thing and simply meet with them first and hear exactly what they plan to do.”