Strike action by the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) would be “devastating” to The Bahamas’ tourism product, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday.
The minister was asked about the BHCAWU’s planned strike vote after it rejected certain proposals contained in a new industrial agreement from the Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (BHEA). Last week, BHCAWU members burned the proposal and shared video of the act in a defiant message to the association.
He called on the two entities to come to an agreement.
“This is a negotiation process and I implore both parties not to get the hotel workers prematurely upset,” he said outside Cabinet.
“The employers have come out with their ask and the response by the union has been quite clear.
“So this is a negotiation process. I consider a strike to be the nuclear option. And we are a long way from that, so I would implore both parties, both the union and the employers, to get into a room and ensure that they come to an amicable solution.
“A strike at this time in the hotel industry would be devastating. Fifty-five percent of our economy is based on tourism.”
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said yesterday that the government is very concerned about possible strike action by the hotel union.
“I would like to encourage both sides,” Foulkes said.
“I know there is a very particular issue with the 15 percent gratuity that has been enshrined in the hotel constitution for many years now, and it has been accepted as part of every negotiation team going back now for several negotiations.
“As minister of labor, it is very difficult for me to voice my opinion on the various proposals in the negotiation contract.”
He added, “I may add that the 15 percent gratuity was agreed to be added many years ago as part of the base pay for the workers in the hotel industry. So the National Insurance calculation that is made to National Insurance and all the benefits that are derived from that contribution, the 15 percent, is actually included in that.
“So, I am fully sympathetic and understanding from the position of the hotel union, but it is a process that we are engaged with. The government sees this as a top priority to bring a settlement.”
BHCAWU will hold a strike vote tomorrow after continued difficulties in negotiating a new industrial agreement with BHEA.
BHCAWU General Secretary Sheila Burrows said BHEA, which is representing Atlantis, the Reef, the Cove, Harbourside Resort, Melia Nassau Beach, British Colonial Hilton, Lyford Cay Club, the Ocean Club and Towne Hotel, sent a proposal, but the union burned it after finding it had “grave” issues.
Burrows listed mandated gratuity amounts as well as holiday benefits and increased severity of breaches as issues in BHEA’s proposal.
She noted that while employees in food and beverage normally earn 15 percent for services rendered, the proposal outlines zero percent for fine dining, buffet, banquet, gourmet and specialty restaurants.
D’Aguilar yesterday pleaded with both sides to consider the well-being of the nation in their decisions going forward.
“We have to be very, very careful and I implore both parties to get into a room, let calmer heads prevail and to ensure that we don’t get to where I think we’re headed and to ensure that whatever we come up with is good for both parties,” D’Aguilar said.
“No one will be happy 100 percent. But always keep in the back of your head that 55 percent of our gross domestic product is derived from tourism.
“So if these negotiations go awry, this will effect the entire country. So let calmer heads prevail.”