Hotel industrial deal ‘in need of a miracle’


Tribune Business Reporter



Herbert Thompson

THE Government’s labour director yesterday said “it’s becoming obvious there now needs to be a miracle” to secure an industrial agreement for the hotel industry after Friday’s talks ended in “stalemate”.

Howard Thompson, in a messaged reply to Tribune Business inquiries, said that as “an eternal optimist” he remains hopeful a break-through may yet occur to prevent industrial action from disrupting the country’s largest industry after hotel employers promised to “crunch the numbers” over the weekend and see if they could meet the union’s “very slightly reduced” demands.

He added that following four hours of negotiations, which would have ended around 9pm on Friday night, no agreement or deal had been reached even though the Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association had provided a “counter-offer” to Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) representatives.

The Association, according to Mr Thompson, is due to present the results of its “number crunching” and whether it can meet the union’s position by 12pm today. He said: “After four hours of intense and often-times spirited negotiations between the executives of the hotel owner association and the executives of the hotel union, the night ended in a stalemate.

“No deal. No agreement. Notwithstanding the hotel owners association’s counter-offer on the increase on the base salary and increase on the lump sum. My meditation team, which includes Ministry of Labour’s external counsel, Keenan Johnson, Father Palacious and veteran unionist, Bernard Evans were exhausted and a bit deflated at the end of the night when we reported back to minister Pia Glover-Rolle.

“I did state a couple days before Friday’s negotiations that we were operating ‘on faith’, but now it’s becoming obvious that there now needs to be a miracle.” Mr Thompson declined to reveal specifics on the Association’s counter-proposal, and what it is offering union members on base pay and a lump sum payment, or what modifications the union has made to its demands.

However, he added: “The night ended on a slight positive note where the executives of the hotel owner’s association asked for more time to go back and speak with their account- ants 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.

“We expect to hear back from them before 12pm Monday on that. So fingers crossed. I am the eternal optimist and so therefore I remain hopeful, and I’ve been in contact with both the president of the hotel owner’s association (Russell Miller) and the president of the hotel union (Darrin Woods) [on Saturday] to discuss matters in more detail.

“If capital truly understands labour and labour truly understand capital, the new offer should break the impasse immediately but as I alluded to...it’s going to take a ‘miracle’ and I do believe in miracles.” Mr Woods could not be reached for comment before press time last night.

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 the industry’s first industrial agreement for more than a decade.

Mr Woods last week complained that the Asso- ciation 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 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.

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 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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