COVID-19 has given BHCAWU a dose of its own medicine

Dear Editor,

In a recent Tribune article, a Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) representative spoke about the financial plight of union members employed at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and Bah Mar — two of the largest private employers in The Bahamas.

Atlantis is to The Bahamas what Disney World is to Orlando, Florida. When the late Sir Sol Kerzner embarked on transforming Paradise Island in the ‘90s, the Bahamian tourism product was in complete shambles, with other Caribbean tourist destinations gaining significant ground.

Atlantis’ value to the Bahamian tourism industry and the overall economy has been accentuated by the COVID-19 economic fallout since its closure in March. Hotel employees, with the exception of a few essential staff members, haven’t earned a salary since March or thereabouts, other than whatever financial assistance Atlantis and Baha Mar have graciously offered.

Judging from the reaction of the BHCAWU, this financial aid obviously isn’t cutting the mustard, as bills continue to mount.

BHCAWU members, as to be expected, were elated by the announcement of The Bahamas reopening for tourist business on October 15, by Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

With the subsequent devastating news that Baha Mar may not reopen until the Christmas season or even in 2021, the Free National Movement (FNM ) government’s reopening plans are in jeopardy of being foiled.

Like D’Aguilar and the FNM, the BHCAWU seems anxious for the two major resorts to commit to an imminent reopening date. And herein lies the irony of the BHCAWU prodding Atlantis and Baha Mar to reopen.

The readership would recall that the BHCAWU, in December 2019, had threatened to take industrial action against Atlantis, during the peak season for tourism, over minor grievances that could’ve been discussed amicably at the negotiating table.

The BHCAWU had even upped its ante by staging a protest at Atlantis on Thanksgiving, which was a tactical move. A strike, which seemed imminent, would’ve derailed an otherwise outstanding year for tourism, that had over seven million arrivals.

Atlantis, backed into the corner, obtained a court injunction against the BHCAWU, with the aim of preventing the union from taking further industrial action. A strike would’ve shut down Atlantis, leaving it in an awkward situation with thousands of guests.

What the BHCAWU was doing could be considered industrial blackmail. This could’ve ruined Atlantis. Thousands of inconvenienced vacationers, many of whom were saving for months to come to The Bahamas, would’ve left the country irate — many never to return. Wallowing in myopia, the union couldn’t see the far-reaching implications of its actions.

Two-thousand-nineteen now seems to be eons ago. With Atlantis and Baha Mar now closed, the BHCAWU cannot collect thousands in weekly dues. Moreover, I doubt that the union is in the financial position to offer substantial assistance to its membership.

Ironically, COVID-19 has done to Atlantis what a BHCAWU strike would’ve done: shut down the resort. For all intents and purposes, COVID-19 is giving the BHCAWU a dose of its own medicine.

BHCAWU members are now on work stoppage, albeit not in the manner they had threatened Atlantis with in December.

Tourism on New Providence will rebound, once a cure for COVID-19 is discovered. BHCAWU members must never again take Atlantis and the tourism sector for granted.

Kevin Evans

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