One week after Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) employees staged a sickout across The Bahamas, union leaders are calling on the government to intervene as tensions heighten between management and staff over reported stalled contract negotiations.
Dozens of employees, dressed in black, gathered during their lunch break at the company’s John F. Kennedy Drive location yesterday to express their concerns.
“Employees of BTC have gathered here this afternoon to express our disgust in the way we are being treated here at BTC,” said Dino Rolle, president of the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU).
“Notwithstanding the fact that we have a long outstanding industrial agreement, we the members here are concerned about our jobs.
“We see it every day. We see people coming in from across the board, the government issuing work permits with regularity and they coming on the side of us and they are doing the very same thing that we are doing.
“…We can’t sit idly by while we are being channeled out these doors and then other persons from across the way come here to take these jobs. That cannot be right and that is the main reason why we are here today.”
He continued, “The government of The Bahamas is a major stakeholder in this company and they are the ones who are issuing these permits. They are the ones who are allowing us to be displaced in this company. And so we are calling, as I indicated, the government must come from behind the curtain and the government must protect Bahamian jobs.”
A number of BTC retail stores on New Providence and the Family Islands closed last week 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 were 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.
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.
Yesterday, BTC released a statement saying, “Our singular goal remains to provide the best connectivity and entertainment for our customers, while maintaining a culture of high performance where our team members can thrive.
“We are confident that a new industrial agreement can be reached in the near future for the benefit of all stakeholders involved, especially the customers we serve across The Bahamas.”
However, Rolle said yesterday that “management appears to be reluctant” to come to the table to discuss their issues.
He said the BCPOU and the Bahamas Communications and Public Managers Union (BCPMU) are prepared to do “everything and anything” within the confines of the law until they get the attention of management and the government.
Rolle added that the unions are still considering applying for a strike vote.
“There’s a strategy afoot,” he said. “That certainly is a part of it. That is down the road and everything is on the table.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications