Many hotel staff worked “unprecedented” five-day weeks during the tourism season’s slowest months, a union leader revealed yesterday, as he bids to complete multiple new industrial agreements in early 2023.
Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union’s (BHCAWU) president, told Tribune Business that the post-COVID tourism recovery’s momentum meant many employees worked double the two-three day weeks typically endured during September and October to meet the demand.
Forecasting that they will be working up to six-day weeks during the Christmas and New Year period, as occupancies and visitor numbers peak, he voiced optimism that staff will be able to join their employers in “riding the proverbial wave all the way to Easter” 2023.
At the same time, Mr Woods disclosed to this newspaper that the union hopes to close negotiations on a new industrial agreement with the Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association some time in the first four months of the year. That body represents Atlantis and other properties such as the Lyford Cay Club.
The BHCAWU’s last industrial agreement with the Association expired in around 2013-2014, although employers have treated its terms and conditions as still being in effect after the union failed to submit its proposal for a new deal and kickstart negotiations within the time stipulated. This means its members have not experienced any improvement in salaries, benefits and working conditions via an industrial deal for at least eight-nine years despite soaring inflation.
Mr Woods, meanwhile, said he has set a similar schedule for completing separate industrial agreements with individual employers such as Restaurants Bahamas (KFC), Best Western, Graycliff and Harbourside as the union bids to at least partially offset the cost of living crisis for its members.
“There’s a night restaurant where they’ve reduced the days but, for the most part, all the other hotel areas have in our view surpassed [pre-COVID staffing levels] because they’re working six days,” the union chief told Tribune Business of current hotel employment levels. “Based on the projections, it appears that we’re going to be very busy over the next couple of days.
“We have pretty much come through the slower period with higher occupancies and expanded work levels. August, September and October, you’d usually be working two to three days. With the exception I told you about, those other areas were working five days minimum, which is unprecedented for that time of the year. If we’re able to ride the proverbial wave through 2023 we believe that should take us all the way to Easter.
“We understand there’s an expected uptick in tourist arrivals next year, and we hope that translates into heads in bed in the hospitality industry, not Airbnb, so our people can benefit.” Mr Woods said higher occupancies, and greater guest numbers, translated into higher tipped or gratuity income for housekeepers, room attendants and persons working in service areas such as the restaurants.
While the increased working hours, and income-earning opportunities, will not compensate for what was lost during COVID, the union chief added: “This was much needed. You can never make up for lost time, but this kind of compensates for it rather than making up for it.....
“I believe our people are more appreciative now, particularly with what we went through with COVID and post-COVID, so there’s a realisation we need to take care of those guests coming in so that we woo them and get repeat customers coming back and also get some referrals, so that they carry us through the hot patches.”
As for the union’s industrial agreement talks on multiple fronts, Mr Woods revealed of talks with the Association: “We’re relatively close I believe. We had a meeting last week Thursday with the membership to kind of bring them up to speed with where we are. There’s only one major item [left]. That, of course, is the wages. We hope to get back together [with the employers] in the New Year and wrap-up in the first quarter of next year to be honest.”
When it came to the separate negotiations with individual employers, he added: “Those are moving on at the same pace as the other agreement. They’re all pretty much in the same stage; it’s just the salaries and financial items that are left. For the most part, we believe we’ll be able to bring those on and complete them in the first quarter or first four months of the year God willing, barring any unforeseen delays.
“Once we get through them we’ll be able to let our hair down a bit. Once we’re able to get those industrial agreements completed and registered, they’re binding on the parties and with the amendment to the law in 2017 what it does now is that they form part of their individual contracts of employment.”
Mr Woods said improved salaries and working terms will help hotel workers partially offset the impact of soaring inflation, which is now being worsened by the rolling quarterly increases in Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) fuel charge. “While salaries and pay are up by the amount of days they are working, you have to take into consideration things are inflated because of what is going on around the world,” he added.
“They want be able to match it, but can at least cope and get the things they need and ensure their children have a good time in the festive season. I believe it’s going to be good and important for them in the next couple of days.”