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Harming workers & the national interest

The Bahamas is just emerging from a hard decade after the financial crisis. Years of recession, stagnation and low growth are giving way to better times.

Stopover visitor arrivals were up 15.2 percent for the first six months of 2018, compared to the same period last year. Tourism officials estimate that the average stopover visitor to The Bahamas spends around $1,500.

During the budget, the government projected growth of 2.5 percent this year, and 2.25 for 2019. In Moody’s August 14 report, the projection was two percent for 2018, and 1.7 percent for 2019.

Strong economic growth in the United States and Canada is fueling our success. Hotel closures in the Caribbean due to the 2017 hurricane season and the opening of Baha Mar have also drawn people to our shores.

Tourism is our main industry. In its main seasons on New Providence – Easter, Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year’s periods – even more people visit. These are the times for all in the business to focus on making money.

Hence, the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union’s position on Monday was bizarre.

Darrin Woods, the union’s president, said his members voted to take industrial action against Atlantis. The Paradise Island resort is the country’s largest private sector employer.

In its nearly 25 years in The Bahamas, Atlantis has employed tens of thousands of people. It is responsible for reviving the Bahamian economy in the 1990s – and sustaining it since. Without Atlantis, the Bahamian economy would collapse.

Woods said the industrial action vote was taken on September 27 and a trade dispute was filed with the Department of Labour on October 25.

He said the decision was the result of the company implementing a 12-point system and a shift change for housekeepers without union input.

“Since we had a special call general meeting, the members unanimously voted to take industrial action against the Atlantis resort, so we’re here now to put our membership at large, those covered by the [Bahamas Hotels Employers Association], on what we call ‘alert’,” Woods said.

“They’re now on work-to-rule as of today.”

Woods added that a go-slow and outright strike will follow if no resolution is reached.

Atlantis said on Monday: “We will address any concerns with the Department of Labour as required by longstanding protocols.”

Employees at Atlantis should be happy they have jobs. The unemployment rate in The Bahamas has essentially been in the double digits for a decade. There are Bahamians who have lost their homes, have had to withdraw their children from private schools, who have lived for long periods without electricity because they can’t find work.

During these tough times Atlantis has remained in business and been good to the thousands of people who worked there, even with fluctuations in its employment level.

Grand Bahama’s dream

Grand Bahama has drifted between depression and recession the past 15 years. There have been so many business closures that many island residents left seeking opportunity elsewhere.

The government recently acquired the Grand Lucayan on Grand Bahama from Hutchison Whampoa, in an attempt to halt the island’s decline. It wants to get the property into proper, private sector hands. It did not think Hutchison was sufficiently motivated to sell after receiving an insurance premium due to damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.

Two of the three Grand Lucayan hotels are closed. The complete and permanent closure of the property would also kill the nearby Port Lucaya retail area.

New Providence hotel workers live a dream life compared to their compatriots on Grand Bahama. On our main island there are Atlantis, Baha Mar, Sandals, Breezes and the Hilton. In our second city, such opportunities are scarce.

Grand Bahama hotel workers dream of working for Atlantis. Their island’s long, steep decline has made them aware of how important it is to value quality investors who run proper, fair businesses.

With that investment comes shared prosperity. Without it, there is suffering for workers.

Common sense

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar expressed concern yesterday regarding the hotel union’s Atlantis decision.

“When I heard about that, I was extremely dismayed,” he said.

“You know, we have a tourism sector that is doing exceptionally well, and I would just hope that both of the parties would work out these differences as quickly as possible.”

D’Aguilar said he hopes the industrial action does not affect visitors’ experiences.

“We have a very busy weekend,” he said.

“We have an enormous amount of people coming to the island, and we don’t want their lasting, lingering memory to be an awful experience at a hotel, so this is extremely worrying to me.”

He added that he spoke with Atlantis representatives and “was assured these matters would quickly work themselves out”.

Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said yesterday any industrial action threat in the hotel sector was concerning, as tourism is the “lifeline of our economy”.

He is confident the matters in dispute will be resolved.

“It is only a question of how they will be resolved,” Foulkes said.

“Both sides are coming to the table on November 27 at the Department of Labour.”

The union should step back from its bellicose rhetoric. It’s unnecessary. It’s misguided.

Resorts take in revenue unevenly during the year. The union harming the operation during Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year’s seasons could significantly reduce revenue intake. And if the resort does not make the money it needs, the jobs of workers would be threatened.

The union should sit with the resort and the government and do the hard work of compromise. Employees should work with full enthusiasm until the dispute is resolved.

It is crazy talk to suggest strikes, go-slows or industrial action during peak holiday season.

Atlantis is not the enemy of workers. It is a vehicle through which they make a living, take care of their families and pursue their dreams.

The union and workers must calm themselves and come to an understanding with their partner. What they have said and done thus far is irresponsible.

Brent Dean

Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Brent is the General Manager of The Nassau Guardian.

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