The recent actions of The Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) were “unprofessional and irresponsible”, Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (BHEA) President Russell Miller said yesterday as he insisted that gratuity for hotel workers was never at stake.
“As a result of the conscious decision by the bargaining unit’s representatives to present to the public an inaccurate depiction of both the process and the contents of the industry’s counterproposal to their proposal, we are left with no choice but to respond in order to set the record straight and reset the basis for future negotiations,” Miller said at a press conference.
He added, “There has been a long-established process as it relates to the conduct of negotiating our industry’s agreement with the union and we will continue to honor that process. Regretfully, this has not been the case for the union, as has been demonstrated with some of the more recent events. We find such behavior to be unprofessional and quite frankly, grossly irresponsible.”
BHCAWU members overwhelmingly voted to strike last Thursday amid assertions that, in negotiating a new industrial agreement, their employers proposed to reduce gratuity amounts from 15 percent to zero in some dining areas.
BHEA is representing the employers in the negotiations, which include Atlantis, the Reef, the Cove, Harborside Resort, Melia Nassau Beach, British Colonial Hilton, Lyford Cay Club, the Ocean Club and Towne Hotel.
General Secretary Sheila Burrows said last week that the decision to hold the poll was in light of “grave issues” found with BHEA’s proposal.
In what the union said was an attempt to remove the 15 percent gratuity, the BHEA proposal left spaces for gratuity percentages blank. However, The Guardian understands that the amounts were left blank because the intention was to begin to discuss how to better distribute the gratuity.
Speaking on the matter, Miller said that the gratuity was a non-issue, and that the union used it to “rile up fears” from its members.
“There has been a deliberate attempt to stir up sentiments around issues that simply do not exist: case in point, the removal of the 15 percent gratuity,” Miller said.
“This is not a part of the BHEA proposal. Apparently, the union made an uninformed assumption and chose to mislead their membership in order to rile up the fears from our team members and secure support for a strike vote.
“As in any negotiation, there are matters on the table presented by both sides which are open for discussion, but that is the nature of a negotiation, in this case, a negotiation which has yet to begin.”
The last union agreement expired in January 2013. The union’s proposal for a new agreement was submitted in December 2018.
Miller yesterday criticized the union for this delay in submitting its agreement and questioned its sudden impatience on the matter.
“Of critical importance is to remind the public that the current union agreement expired on January 7, 2013,” he said.
“The process called for the union to submit their proposal for a new agreement to BHEA by October 8, 2012. They failed to do so, and as a result, their members were left without a valid industrial agreement for no reason other than the union had not submitted a proposal.”
Miller also insisted that the union’s claims that BHEA has not shown a willingness to negotiate are inaccurate. He said that BHEA wrote to the union in February to advise that its members were examining the proposals they received and would respond collectively.
“BHEA members acted quickly and responded substantively to the union’s proposal in less than four months of receipt,” he said.
“Surely the union’s level of impatience is disproportionate considering it took them more than six years to submit a proposal.”
Miller noted that BHEA officers and BHCAWU executives met and that the BHEA advised the union that it was in the process of completing its counterproposal which would be sent by the second week in April.
He said that while the union said it accepted that position and looked forward to receiving the proposal, it filed a dispute at the Ministry of Labour in the weeks following the meeting. He said the basis of the dispute was that BHEA had not commenced negotiations.
According to Miller, the proposal was delivered to the union’s office on April 18. He said the BHEA was notified of the filed dispute on May 7, when it received a notice to appear at the Department of Labour on May 15 to address the issue.
“Please note that we received the notice to appear for a hearing accusing the BHEA of not coming to the table, when in fact we were waiting for acknowledgment by the union that they had received our response to their proposal,” he said.
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish