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Hotel dispute parties ‘stand down’ for talks

• Today’s meeting aims to ‘narrow it down’ to deal

• Some progress, not much’ at three-hour summit

• Labour chief says conciliators ‘acting by faith’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

photo

Darrin Woods

THE two sides in the hotel sector’s industrial dispute yesterday “agreed to stand down” from taking any disruptive action before further talks set for 5pm today.

Howard Thompson, the Government’s director of labour, told Tribune Business he was “hopeful” that today’s meeting between the hotel employers and Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) will enable both sides to “narrow it down” to an agreement and conclude long-running negotiations on a new industrial deal.

Speaking after the union and Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association met for three hours yesterday under the Department of Labour’s supervision, he disclosed that they “made some progress, not much” in resolving the 11th hour impasse that erupted between the two sides over salary increases for tipped employees.

Mr Thompson said conciliators were “acting by faith”, with Father Palacious brought on to the Department of Labour’s team to help bring the two sides to an amicable resolution. And he revealed that, following today’s meeting, he will be “prepared to say who was unreasonable and who was not” depending on the outcome of negotiations.

Asked by this newspaper whether any progress was made at yesterday’s meeting, Mr Thompson replied: “I can say it this way. It was a difficult three hours. It was about three hours today. We made some progress, not much, but some.

“Both sides have agreed to meet tomorrow [today] at 5pm. The parties have agreed to stand down until 5pm tomorrow. I am hope- ful though.” That provides a tight 24-window where no industrial action will take place after the hotel union earlier this week said its estimated 5,000 members were going on a ‘work to rule’ in response to the failure to conclude an industrial agreement with the Association.

“A lot more will be dis- closed,” Mr Thompson said of today’s 5pm meet- ing. “Hopefully, when certain things are disclosed at tomorrow’s meeting that should help us to narrow it down to a conclusion and an agreement. I am hopeful. Coming out of that meet- ing, I’ll be prepared to say who was unreasonable and who was not unreasonable.

“We did bring Father Palacious into proceedings to assist with the negotiations. We are acting by faith. He was part of my team that I brought in.” The labour director said he was unable to reveal what is likely to be disclosed at today’s meeting, but said he might do so once it was concluded. “I don’t want to fumble the ball,” Mr Thompson said.

Meanwhile, Darrin Woods, the hotel union’s president, told Tribune Business that both sides have been gagged from speak publicly or to the media about the negotiations. “We have to go back tomorrow” he said of today’s 5pm meeting. “They say we mustn’t talk to any- body in the press, me and [Russell] Miller. That’s all I can say. Nothing, nothing. We have to go back tomorrow.”

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 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 previously 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.

Work-to-rule would mean that the union’s 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.

Speaking after the two sides’ Tuesday meeting at the Department of Labour, Mr Woods 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 mini- mum 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. 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.”

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 sig- nature. 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.

Comments

carltonr61 5 months, 1 week ago

The rich seem to always have power over labour laws Gere in The Bahamas. On 23 Dec 2023 I was fired from Baseroad Wholesale Bar after nearly 40 years of service duecto the fact that my uncle Wilfred Hanna died in hospital and I requested hours off to deal with my sudden grief. As I in passion attempted to leave the premises as was subsequently told I was fired, stripped of 30 odd years building keys then cursed never to enter the building again. I sought the help of Labour Department through Paul Maynard. We got a date with Labour Conciliatory personnel Mr. Glen Knowles only to be told I am owed $4,000.00 four thousand dollars only fir my forty years of service based on only two weeks vacation pay after 7 years and not three. He also summed that as manager all those years working 9am to 10-11 pm making a salary if $800.00/week in cash, Labour Laws in Tge Bahamas is only accountable to a 40 hour week with a maximum payment of $500.00 per week even Wholesale Bars are opened legally from 9am to 9pm. He never even took into account zero lunch hour having to lunch on the feet. Knowles pleaded with me to accept the $4000.00 dollars from my Employer and brother George Robinson from hus pocket as that was all I can legally receive under Bahamas Labour Laws and if I am not satisfied cone back to him to file a hearing with the Industdial Tribunal. I refused the cash that Mr Knowles claimed would then end my Labour dispute. Upon checking NIB I discovered no contributions oaid for the last two years and even though I made $800.00 for over 30 years my contributions were paid based on a fictitious $500.00 per week salary.
It is just impossible for the poor workers to get justice against the monied. I need help 3575718 unfair and unlawful dismissal. Thus can't be the end of it all.

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