Gov't concern as hotel union on 'work-to-rule'


Darrin Woods


Tribune Business Editor


The hotel union's president last night said he told the Government "to talk" to industry employers as workers went into "full work-to-rule mode" over the impasse in industrial agreement talks.

Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union's president, told Tribune Business that the estimated 5,000-strong bargaining unit "will work our way up" through various forms of industrial action if no amicable resolution is reached with the Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association over pay increases.

Asserting that Tuesday's meeting between the two sides at the Department of Labour achieved nothing, and alleging that the Association further sought to alter wage-related terms the union thought had been agreed, he added of his membership's position: "We ain't giving back nothing."

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 some tourists from visiting.

Mr Woods disclosed to this newspaper that he has already been contacted by Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister and minister of tourism, investments and aviation, over the state of hotel industry industrial relations and the potential for further disruptive action.

However, the union president accused hotel employers of "playing games" over talks aimed at securing the industry's first industrial agreement for over a decade, and added: "We have to get their attention." He also warned that he can "guarantee" escalating forms of industrial action "unless something changes" and the two sides' reach an acceptable solution.

Russell Miller, the senior Atlantis executive and Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association president, declined to comment when contacted by Tribune Business ahead of a further Department of Labour meeting that is scheduled for today.

However, Mr Woods retorted that "ain't nothing happened" when asked by this newspaper about the outcome of Tuesday's meeting between the two sides that was facilitated by the same government agency. "We're on to the next stage. The industry is on full work-to-rule, and industrial action will start soon," he said. "We will work our way up to it. We have to get their attention because they're playing games right now."

The union president said the Association stuck 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.

"The 8 percent increase is less than the minimum wage," Mr Woods said. "They're saying the tipped category, they're not going to give them greater than last year." 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.

"That's what they gave, and they've now said they want to take it from 8 percent and give them 5 percent," Mr Woods said. "We said 'no, no, we didn't agree to that'. We got 8 percent across-the-board for everyone, and we said we negotiated for all; we didn't negotiate for some. To say they will come and take monies back from another group of people, we can't do it. We're going to see where it goes.

"I got a call from the deputy prime minister last [Tuesday] night. They're very concerned with this, and they want to see this come to a speedy and amicable resolution, but I said to talk to them [the Association] because we ain't giving back nothing no more. That's the information my members gave me: They're not prepared to give up anything else."

Mr Woods said the fact the Association came to Tuesday's Department of Labour meeting with a "position", rather than "a proposal", suggested it did not intend to negotiate with the union. Work-to-rule means that its members will stick rigidly to the confines of their job descriptions, refusing to perform extra duties and functions, with the four properties impacted being Atlantis, the Ocean Club, Lyford Cay Club and Town Hotel.

"Nobody wants to see this. We don't want to see this, and but we ain't going to allow anyone to take anything from our members," the union president added. "We're not going to sit and let them take from us. It's time for the members to stand up, and that's what we intend to do."

Asked whether this was not the time to take industrial action, given the present crime-related pressures facing the tourism industry, Mr Woods replied: "I cannot really say it is. The members have been taken advantage of for too long.

"The industry has had a tremendous boom on the backs of my people, and it's time for them to get their fair share. The industry seems to want to take advantage of them, when they know it's the workers that are vital to their industry. We have to do what we have to do."

While pledging that hotel union members will "stay within the confines of the law", Mr Woods added: "I want to send a strong message to anyone on the other side who attempts to prevent my members from exercising their rights.. If one of my members, just one, is impeded from exercising their rights it's no holds barred and the gloves are off.

"We've suffered long, and during the whole period they worked. Now it's time for them to receive something, and they want to take back from them. Like I said in the other place, it will be a cold day in hell."

Mr Miller, in a statement last week, said the Association was “surprised and disappointed” by the union’s stance given that both sides had “agreed to all financial and non-financial terms” for a first industrial agreement in more than a decade.

“Given that we were in the final stages of completing these negotiations with the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU), we are surprised and disappointed by the statements made by BHCAWU’s president, Darrin Woods,” Mr Miller 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 bargaining 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.


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