Despite lockout threats, Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson said yesterday the Bahamas Industrial Manufacturers and Allied Workers Union (BIMAWU) will not accept the latest industrial agreement proposal from Morton Bahamas Ltd.
In a letter dated June 18, Morton Bahamas Ltd. Chief Negotiator Christopher Getaz said the offer the company provided on June 13 was its “best and final” offer, and the union had 15 days from the date of the letter to accept the proposal or the company would lock employees out of the plant.
BIMAWU and the Inagua-based salt company have been negotiating a new agreement for several months.
In negotiating the new agreement, the union has taken issue with employee wages, vacation times and retirement pay, and its members overwhelmingly voted to strike in November.
Ferguson said Morton Bahamas Ltd.’s offer was the same one from over a year ago, which proposed a 1.5 percent pay raise for the first three years, 1.7 percent for the fourth and 1.9 percent for the fifth, even though annual inflation is usually about three percent. He also said the company is substantially increasing employees’ insurance contribution.
“We wait patiently to see them joining the strike in 15 days’ time, because that’s the way we classified it,” Ferguson said.
“We haven’t had the employer in this country locking out their workers who have a legal bargaining unit approved by the government.”
Ferguson added, “The workers will not sign that under those conditions, and so the workers will go on strike with them too, because they are going on strike.
“We want to let them know that this is a democratic society. We are not going to allow them to dictate to us what they want, disregarding what we are entitled to.
“So if they want to do what they say they will do, they can go right ahead. We will watch and see.
“The days of forcing someone to sign documents that are not in their interest, those days are over. The allegations they are making, those allegations are unfounded.
“They promised to send a proposal, but they never did. We got one now, but when we got it, it is the same one that they offered over a year ago. They haven’t changed it, but they are trying to fool the Bahamian public.”
In his letter, Getaz cited several instances of “industrial action activities” in recent months that he said “affected the production and the economic viability of the plant”.
He said those activities included several instances of reduced operating speed; an instance of “perceived sabotage” of company vehicles; continued slowdown in production through the months of May and June; and “unwillingness on the part of BIMAWU to bargain in good faith”.
He also said BIMAWU representatives failed to attend several meetings to negotiate a new agreement.
Ferguson said those allegations were unfounded, noting that numerous variables contribute to production rates. He also said the union’s negotiators did not attend subsequent meetings after Morton made it clear that its offer would not change.
“The workers never went on a go-slow. The workers voted for a strike. They have a strike certificate, which makes it possible for them to go on strike legally, but they never went on strike,” he said.
Ferguson added, “There was a meeting called here. We attended that meeting, and they gave us an assurance that they would submit to us what they called the last and best offer. When they submitted it to us that afternoon, after having agreed to meet over a period of three days, it was the same thing that they offered a year ago.
“Therefore, the union executives and the membership did not attend that meeting, because they said that was the last and best offer.”
Ferguson likened Morgan Bahamas Ltd.’s proposal to pre-independence conditions.
“Slavery was abolished in The Bahamas, and in 1967, we became an independent nation to some extent,” he said.
“Morton Salt is attempting to introduce a draconian policy foreign to The Bahamas and foreign to the Bahamian people.”
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish