Hotel deal: ‘11th hour impasse’ over minimum wage workers


Tribune Business Editor


HOTEL employers yesterday pledged that an “11th hour impasse” will “not derail” their bid to reach a new industrial deal amid accusations they are seeking to “discriminate” against minimum wage staff.

Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union’s (BHCAWU) president, told Tribune Business that the early morning protest at the Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge was sparked after the Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association allegedly sought to alter the proposed agreement’s terms at the last minute.

He said all the documents were in the process of being vetted and “finalised” last week when the Association purportedly took the position that minimum wage staff would not necessarily receive the 8 percent “across-the-board” salary increase the union wants for all members.

Mr Woods instead said the Association has adopted the stance that such workers, mainly staff who gain the bulk of their income from guest tips, should receive “whichever is greater” - the 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 increasing the minimum wage last year, they would not be entitled to a further rise under the new industrial agreement.

“We agreed on an 8 percent increase,” the hotel union chief told this newspaper. “It’s supposed to be across-the-board but, according to the Association, they want to give the greater of the 8 percent or the minimum wage increase - whichever is greater.

“I said to them: We cannot negotiate for one group; we negotiate for everyone. We said notwithstanding what the Government did, they still have to get an increase. We actually thought we were past this until last week when we finalised the documents. When they confirmed to me that was their position, that was not agreed.

“The union has always maintained that it is negotiating for every member. We cannot say some persons will get it and others won’t.

You’re [the Association] trying to chastise the people because the Government increased the minimum wage. You cannot do that. You cannot chastise what the Government has done.”

Russell Miller, the senior Atlantis executive and Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association president, in a statement said it 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.

Given the numerous hotel closures and terminations in recent years, the Association is now by and large solely representing Atlantis in the industrial agreement talks. Mr Woods yesterday alleged that the Association was effectively trying to “discriminate” against tipped and mini- mum wage employees, and pledged that the union is “standing firm”.

He added that the umbrella union body, the Bahamas National Congress of Trade Unions (BNCTU), of which the hotel union is part plans to raise the issue in an upcoming meeting with Pia Glover-Rolle, minister of labour and the public service. And Howard Thompson, the director of labour, is trying to organise a meeting between the Association and union next week in a bid to resolve the dispute.

“This is something we’re trying to get behind us,” Mr Woods said of the industrial agreement, with negotiations having gone on for months. “It was my hope that this would be agreed and signed before the holidays. That didn’t happen due to various factors, and now we’re facing another one. Every time the Association wants a new position or takes a new position, they take a militant position.

“Once we get past this, everything will be agreed. The members have decided we cannot take no more. We actually wanted to sign it this week. We had a meeting with our membership on Wednesday night and they indicated that they have had enough. They are frustrated and their frustration is towards us.

“They have now gotten personal. Any time you have someone tell you that they know where you live, you can’t take that lightly. We are trying our best to bring this to a conclusion and that means by whatever means necessary.”

When asked what action the union may take if hotel employers fail to budge, Mr Woods added: “Well, who knows? I wouldn’t want to think that far to be honest. I’m hoping it can be resolved relatively quickly. I was very disappointed.

“Through it all, I think what has probably thrown us for a loop is you know when you feel like you are right there, it’s that time, and something has come up and knocked you back. We’re just trying to get the best for our membership at the end of the day. We just want to get this behind us.”


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