An overwhelming majority of Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) members yesterday voted to strike after continued difficulties in negotiating a new industrial agreement with their employers.
The members who took part in the vote were employees of the Atlantis, the Reef, the Cove, Harborside Resort, Melia Nassau Beach, British Colonial Hilton, Lyford Cay Club, the Ocean Club and Towne Hotel.
The Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (BHEA), which has yet to comment on the negotiations or the strike vote, is representing management at those properties in the negotiations.
Director of Labour John Pinder last night confirmed that of the members voting at the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers (BCPOU) building, which included Melia Nassau Beach, the British Colonial Hilton, Lyford Cay Hotel and Towne Hotel, 538 voted to strike, while seven voted not to.
Atlantis, the Reef, the Cove, Harborside Resort and Ocean Club union members voted at the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium.
All 44 Harborside Resort employees who voted chose to strike. Fifty-five Ocean Club employees voted yes to a strike, while one voted no.
For Atlantis, the Cove and the Reef, around 1,600 people voted to strike, while 15 voted not to.
With many expressing concern that a strike could be dangerous for the tourism industry and economy at large, BHCAWU President Darrin Woods said yesterday that a strike would be a last resort option, and that he hopes the strike certificate will “balance the scale” in the union’s negotiations with the employers.
“Right now, the employers and powers that be are negotiating from a position of strength and power,” he said outside the stadium, where dozens of people had already lined up to vote.
He added, “What this strike vote poll is, is for them to send a message that they need to have their concerns addressed. We will not go out there and strike just like that, because we believe that we are able to sit down and address the issues.”
BHCAWU General Secretary Sheila Burrows earlier this week said the BHEA sent a proposal for a new industrial agreement, 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.
Woods said that while all those matters are of concern, the primary issue is ensuring that union members get proper terms and conditions of work.
“Yes, they are important, but they’re not as important as proper terms and conditions,” he said.
He added, “If they are able to say to you when you come to work today, ‘I’m only going to pay you for the hours you work’, that’s a problem.
“Because we have now where you’re guaranteed a day’s pay if you come to work.”
He added, “But they want the unfettered right to say that you have to go home. How could you build your life on that? You cannot build your life on that.”
Woods said that the general mood of employees in the hospitality industry is one of frustration, and that workers feel unappreciated for their contributions to the industry over many years.
“We hear the results that have been going out in terms of how tourism stopover visitors are up, the room revenue is up,” he said.
“They are up month over month, but still persons in the industry have not received an increase since 2012.”
“…So, they are here to send a message to all and sundry that they have had enough and they want to be recognized for the persons who they are and the contributions that they have made to this industry.”
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes and Director of Labour John Pinder both sympathized with the plight of the hotel workers, and expressed concern over the gratuity issue.
Commenting on that particular grievance, Woods said that as long as he is president of the union, the gratuity rate will not change.
“Gratuity was introduced because the employers didn’t want to pay salaries,” he said.
“So, if you’re saying now that you want to take that away, what are you saying as it relates to their salary? Because you are not going to give them an increase that is commensurate to what they were making before, and I can tell you, as long as I am the president of this union, that will never happen.”
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar earlier this week called on the union and the employers to let calm heads prevail, and warned that a strike at this time could be devastating for the country.
Responding to those concerns, Wood said there will never be a good time to strike, but the union must get its point across.
“We have been tolerant for a long time,” he said.
“We have been trying to negotiate behind the scenes and tried to get some things resolved.
“To borrow a line from our former president, ‘only the squeaky wheel gets the oil’. So the hotel industry now, the wheels are squeaking. Get some oil for them.”
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish