By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Government’s labour director last night said almost five hours of “intense negotiations” had failed to break the deadlock over a new industrial agreement covering much of the hotel industry.
Howard Thompson told Tribune Business he and the Department of Labour’s external attorney, Keenan Johnson, left the meeting with “a glimmer of hope” that a deal could be finalised before afternoon today even though an “impressive and formidable” effort by Pia Glover-Rolle, minister of labour and the public service, failed to produce a breakthrough.
“All I can say and will say at this time is that, after nearly five hours of negotiations, there is still no concrete agreement,” he said of the stalemate between the Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association (BHREA) and the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU).
“However, I hasten to say that the minister’s leadership and handling of matters at the meeting was formidable, and I and external counsel, Keenan Johnson, left the meeting tonight with a glimmer of hope that there is still a possibility of getting a deal concretised before lunch time tomorrow [today].”
Mrs Glover-Rolle led discussions with hotel union representatives over the latest counter-proposal from resort employers including Atlantis, the Ocean Club, Lyford Cay Club and Town Hotel. Darrin Woods, the union’s president, again could not be reached for comment before press time last night, amid the impasse over reaching a first hotel sector industrial agreement since 2013.
The counter-proposal emerged after the employers, according to Mr Thompson, agreed “to go back and speak with their accountants to ‘crunch the numbers’ and see if they could possibly agree to the union’s very slightly reduced position on base salary increase across the board”.
Members of the 5,000-strong hotel union were last week said to have held-off on plans to go on ‘work to rule’ as the first step in escalating industrial action in a bid to provide time for more negotiations to complete negotiations.
This would be the worst possible time for hotel industry to be hit by industrial action given that The Bahamas is already grappling with the fall-out from frenzied US and international media coverage of this nation’s crime woes - a development that could potentially deter some tourists from visiting.
The Department of Labour’s and Mrs Glover- Rolle’s involvement, with a series of meetings held within the space of just a few days to try and bring the two sides to an agreement, signals the Government’s desire to head-off any industrial action that might disrupt The Bahamas’ largest industry at this time.
Mr Woods had complained that the Association was sticking to its previously stated position, which is that tipped workers and other minimum wage staff will not necessarily receive the 8 percent “across-the- board” salary increase the BHCAWU wants for all members.
Its stance is that such workers, who mainly gain the bulk of their income from guest tips, should receive “whichever is greater” - last year’s minimum wage increase or an 8 percent pay rise, but not both - when it comes to their base salary.
This would mean that if a hotel worker’s base pay increased by more than 8 percent due to the Government raising the minimum wage last year, they would not be entitled to a further rise under the new industrial agreement.
And he alleged that the Association had also revised its position such that its members want to deduct the 3 percent pay increase they gave voluntarily to non- tipped staff last year from that 8 percent, thus cutting their pay rise to 5 percent. The four unionised properties involved are Atlantis, the Ocean Club, Lyford Cay Club and Town Hotel.
Mr Miller, the senior Atlantis executive and Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association president, previously said in a statement that both sides had “agreed to all financial and non-financial terms” for the industrial agreement and the impasse was ‘unexpected’.
He said: “Both sides had already agreed to all financial and non-financial terms and conditions in the new agreement, and we were in the process of vetting and binding documents for signature. This unexpected, 11th-hour impasse is incredibly unfair to our bar- gaining unit team members who have worked without an agreement since 2013 due to the union’s failure to put a new contract forward.
“We have continued to honour and operate under the terms of the expired agreement without fail. We will not allow today to derail our commitment to finalising a new agreement as soon as possible.” The reference to the “union’s failure” refers to the fact it did not submit an offer for a new industrial deal 90 days or more before the last agreement’s expiry in 2013 as the contract mandated it must do.”