A number of Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) retail stores on New Providence and the Family Islands closed yesterday after many employees called in sick amid complaints over unsatisfactory wages and benefits.
The stores affected were the Mall at Marathon and Southwest Plaza locations on New Providence and the Governor’s Harbour, Spanish Wells, Georgetown, Pioneer’s Way, Marsh Harbour, Long Island, Crooked Island, Cat Island, Acklins and San Salvador locations.
BTC CEO Garry Sinclair estimated that up to 65 percent of the staff was out sick.
Sinclair said that since his appointment last August, he has been working to settle an industrial agreement that has been outstanding for more than two years.
“We have gone about in earnest to do just that,” he said.
Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) President Dino Rolle claimed workers got sick after social events held by the union the night before.
Rolle also expressed frustration over the offer BTC’s management made for the new agreement, which would be retroactive to 2017.
“…We are extremely offended by what management brought to the table,” he said.
“Couple that with the fact that a number of benefits that those persons who served before us who sacrificed much to achieve, management is trying to roll [them] back. And under no circumstances will we allow that to happen.
“I, as the union president, will be damned if that happens and it’s not going to happen on my watch.
“And Garry Sinclair needs to get that in his head.”
Rolle said management wants to eliminate Christmas bonuses and has made an “insulting” offer regarding salary increases.
“We haven’t had a salary increase in forever,” Rolle said.
“And so, our position is our salary is below market rate.
“We are asking management to give us a sensible offer to at least have our salary as professionals reflect what’s happening in the market.
“Management isn’t inclined to do that.
“For the three-year life of our agreement, they offered us a $2,000 lump sum for the life of this agreement. I find that so offensive.”
BTC was privatized in 2011. Competition has since been introduced to the market.
Sinclair said given BTC’s financial position, the union should not have the same expectations as in the past.
“There are expectations that have been developed over the years during a mobile monopoly environment, [but] expectations have to be tempered now after having introduced competition and having lost tens of thousands of mobile subscribers and tens of millions of dollars in mobile revenue over the years,” he said.
“We just can’t have the same expectations.”
Sinclair said both sides have made progress on most issues, but noted that there are still some that are outstanding.
“However, I believed that we were engaged in a process that was going to come to a resolution,” he said, noting that the action came “out of the blue”.
Sinclair said management is willing to negotiate even harder and added, “I’m willing to take the blame and start to get some resolution of this matter.”
He admitted that the sick-out had a significant impact on the business, but applauded staff who did all they could to keep business going yesterday.
It is unclear how long the action will continue.
Asked about the health status of the employees, Rolle said, “Well, from what I see and what I’m hearing, I’m hearing the symptoms [are] kind of harsh on them and it appears they are going to be out for a while.”