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Woods: KFC workers ‘willing to do what it takes’

The Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) will do whatever it takes to ensure the success of KFC’s operations in The Bahamas, a union leader telling Guardian Business the record reflects that commitment.

Ahead of yesterday’s meeting with Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes and KFC Bahamas management representatives, BHCAWU Secretary General Darren Woods, said he expected a positive outcome, once all the parties came to communicate and negotiate.  They were still meeting up to press time yesterday.

“At any given point, once people come to the table entrenched in a position, nothing will be accomplished.  As we have demonstrated in the past, we are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure KFC is a viable business, and we hope the company is willing to do likewise,” Woods told Guardian Business.

Yesterday’s meeting was aimed at initiating earnest dialogue over Christmas bonuses now due and payable to KFC staff, along with other issues, according to Woods.

Regarding the dispute over this year’s bonuses, Woods said he was disappointed with how the matter had been handled, telling Guardian Business it only very recently became aware that the company did not intend to pay bonuses that staff are entitled to.

“It was just in the letter of November 22nd,” he said. “That’s the first time they brought up non-payment of bonuses.”

In advertisements taken out in local media, KFC says that in that November 22 letter to the union, it insisted on a meeting on November 30, 2011 to begin negotiations over a new labor agreement, after which time the company would not be able to pay some benefits.  Union proposed dates to begin that negotiation in 2012 were “unacceptable” according to KFC.

But Woods questioned the sincerity behind the late notification of KFC’s intention to not pay bonuses as the company struggled last year too, but made the announcement much earlier, he said.  Then, the parties were able to reach an agreement with members whereby the payment of Christmas bonuses was deferred, rather than canceled, he said.

The upcoming negotiations over a new labor agreement with the company represent an altogether separate issue, despite their apparent ‘amalgamation’ by KFC, Woods charged.

Still, when the parties decide on an appropriate time to commence those discussions, the secretary general said the union would work to ensure a viable KFC.  While he said the intention of the union was always to maintain as many benefits for employees as reasonably achievable, its record shows it is willing to negotiate to mutual benefit.

“In the past when the company experienced hard times, we were able to defray costs through pulling back other benefits”, Woods said

He summarized some of the concessions made last year.  Among them, KFC Bahamas’ health and welfare payments were frozen, along with its contributions to an employee assistance plan.  That plan set aside funds to assist employees that fell on hard times or disaster, according to Woods.

He also said a 50 percent reduction in pension contributions was conceded to KFC – their contribution falling from 6 percent of salary to 3 percent.

In its advertisements, KFC indicating said its financial position “grows even more critical every day,” listing attempts initiated since October 10 to bring the union to the table to discuss a new five-year labor agreement.  It’s saying that its current labor contract leaves it at a competitive disadvantage.

KFC summarized that first communication as follows:  “KFC noted that the business environment in which it operates has become more challenging as the result of the economic downturn and financial hardship being faced by our customers and that the new agreement would have to take this into account to enable the company to remain in business.”

Guardian Business reached out to Gabriel Sastre, general manager of KFC Bahamas for comment yesterday, but was not able to communicate with him up to press time.

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