Labor unrest in the hotel sector
As the Bahamian tourism sector begins to show increased signs of recovery following a sluggish decade, disharmony on the labor front will not be helpful.
Reports that the Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (the employers) and the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (the union) are at loggerheads in the negotiation of a new industrial agreement are disconcerting.
Tourism is the mainstay of our economy. It is the most significant creator of jobs. And, hotels are the backbone of that industry.
We can all agree that it is in the interest of employees, employers and the country to keep our hotel rooms occupied and our guests happy with the quality of service received. This will guarantee not only repeat visitors but also recommendations touting us as a warm weather destination where good value can be had for dollars spent.
We note that a new industrial agreement between the employers and the union is more than five years overdue. We understand why this is disturbing to organized labor.
The union has been vocal in stating its grievances including concern over the long period of time without wage increases, guaranteed workday pay, mandated gratuities, holiday benefits and proposed increased severity in penalties for breaches of the agreement. These concerns have resonated with union membership which demonstrated their overwhelming support in the recent strike vote.
Conversely, the employers have been reluctant to speak clearly on their position, though management at Atlantis has asserted that they have no interest in removing gratuities. We believe it advisable for the employers to make their broad positions known to the wider public. It would appear that the hullabaloo about gratuities was based on a misunderstanding and that what is being sought is a discussion on how the 15 percent gratuity is to be distributed among the different categories of workers.
Atlantis’ position on gratuities at least will be welcomed. Gratuities have been a part of hotel workers industrial agreements from time immemorial. While the 15 percent rate applied for many years was once considered high for vacation destinations, that rate is now lower that the 18 percent to 20 percent rate now routinely applied in North America.
We believe it is important for both employers and the union to come to negotiations in an atmosphere of mutual respect and in a spirit of cordiality. Our society is replete with individuals who have vast expertise and experience in the negotiation of hotel industrial agreements. We suggest to both the employers and the union that they seek out advice and guidance from such individuals.
It is important for the employers to accept that quality service requires satisfied employees who see their work appreciated and who believe that their labor is being justly compensated.
At the same time, union leaders and their membership must ensure that they are delivering standards expected for jobs performed and salaries paid.
Finally, we note that most Baha Mar hotels, the second largest employers in the hotel sector, are not members of the Hotel Employers Association.