This past week, The Bahamas celebrated Labour Day. In one of the stranger twists of the annual celebrations, for the second year, there has been no parade – and even an attempted motorcade was blocked by the relevant authorities. It is an understatement to say that the labor movement in The Bahamas has gone through severe pain in the last year. The pandemic has been particularly brutal to workers as we have seen the unemployment rate soar, workers have had their cars and homes repossessed and some who have never had to depend on social service have had to lean on social assistance for survival.
Workers in many ways went through a helpless experience. There was no bargaining power because the issue of the day was survival for businesses who could not pay workers because their income was severely reduced and the tourists who drive our economy were barred or limited from entering The Bahamas. In my lifetime, I have never seen such a quandary and hopefully will never see again. Thee year 2020 was brutal for workers and brutal for business and employers also. Everyone suffered under the weight of the pandemic.
We are now seeing signs of a turnaround – but what does this mean for workers and what does the future look like? I have served as a worker, a manager, human resources manager for a local food store chain, an employer, businessperson, business and corporate consultant and trainer and motivational speaker for many businesses. I believe this qualifies me to speak on labor issues and what the future looks like for the Bahamian worker.
I can say with assurance that we have many good, competent, loyal and diligent workers. I can also say with some assurance that we have many unproductive, unfruitful, lazy, inconsiderate and incompetent workers. The bad workers make life hard for the good workers. As both employer and manager, I have been astounded at the attitude and performance of some workers. Unfortunately, I have witnessed a high level of stealing; employees who fail to show up for work and who do not call; workers who do not develop their skills and enhance their knowledge of their profession; workers who simply do not show up for work for periods of time and who give the good workers a hard time because of their negative actions.
We also have good and bad employers. Some employers take advantage of workers and are totally unreasonable in their expectations and demands as they exploit workers with low pay and unreasonable burdens. There are problems on both sides of this equation. What I can say with assurance is that what is needed to reduce the labor pains is an upgrade on both sides of the ledger. The Bahamian work ethic is in desperate need of an upgrade, and this is where unions have the capacity to influence the outcome. Union leaders need to have a frank and open discussion with workers, informing them of the current state of affairs and outlining what it will take to improve their prospects for a better tomorrow and to upgrade the name and value of workers in The Bahamas.
In the Bible, it was said that Daniel was chosen above all the others to become governor because he had an excellent spirit. Unions and leaders must fight to protect the rights of workers, but they must also demand excellence in order to legitimize the fight and increase their bargaining power. Employers love excellence and are willing to pay for excellence. They are not happy or willing to pay for slothfulness and negative attitudes. In order for The Bahamas to achieve its maximum capacity, we need a more skilled, professional and competent workforce. As an employer, I have lost contracts because workers did not do one simple thing – show up when they were supposed to. The same workers who I invested in and took on business trips and gave bonuses to did not do the one simple thing that would have helped them and helped the business. They simply did not show up.
As the country rebounds and Bahamians return to work, there should not be a return to what was before. The pandemic should serve as a warning that nothing is guaranteed and the workers who are excellent will be the first ones to be rehired. This is an opportunity to reboot, reorganize and reprioritize for a better future. As a country, we have gone through the pain, and it is time to birth a new labor force that is accountable and excellent. We should not have to look to foreigners to do our work because our labor force is slothful. Hopefully, the pain of 2020 and the pandemic will birth a new movement that propels us into a new era of labor excellence.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to email@example.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.