With just about a week and a half until the emergency powers orders expire, President of the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) Darrin Woods is urging the competent authority not to extend the orders, so that restrictions preventing hotels from making employees redundant can be lifted.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said last week that he had yet to make a decision on whether the state of emergency would be extended beyond May 23.
With the vast majority of his 6,000-member union furloughed for more than a year now, Woods renewed his call for restrictions preventing them from being made redundant to expire on May 23 as well.
“The majority are still at home. The numbers that are being called back to work are minimal and so the vast majority are still home. That’s why we’re eyeing to see what happens with the emergency orders that expire on the 23rd, because we are hoping that it goes away,” he told Guardian Business yesterday.
“As I would have indicated many times before, this is disenfranchising the workers because the employers are exploiting this time and we believe that there should be some balance that should be struck between the employees’ rights and the employers’ rights. The employers’ rights seem to have trumped the employees’ rights in this whole process.”
Under the emergency orders, sections 27 and 28 of the Employment Act have been suspended. Woods said this has left many hotel workers in a bad predicament, as many have found it difficult to find other forms of employment and have been relying on government assistance.
“Employees are saying, ‘I’ve been home for such a long time I’d like to receive whatever you have for me’ and the employers are saying they can’t because of the emergency orders. So for us, we would like to see that restriction removed so that at least the employees who want to can bring closure to their situation are able to do so,” he said.
“Nothing prohibits you from getting another job, but the problem with that is you would find other employers say if you were furloughed they may not take a chance on you, because you may decide when the industry opens back up you go back to work and then they are left to go find somebody else. But if they get some closure and they find something else to do, they are able to move on with their lives.”
Woods said the union hasn’t determined exactly how many members would opt for being made redundant; however, he said no one should be prevented from getting what is owed to them in the current circumstances.
While most major hotels have reopened, Woods said only about 20 to 25 percent of union members have been called back to work.
Tourism has been trending up, with March seeing the highest level of tourist arrivals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the industry to a standstill in March 2020.
Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday that the high level of applications for travel health visas in recent weeks – since the government announced that vaccinated travelers do not need to produce a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country – is indicative of the growing demand for travel to The Bahamas.
Speaking to the projected growth in tourist arrivals over the coming summer months, Woods said it’s only good if it translates into heads in beds.
“It might seem pessimistic, I mean we can prepare for it but we won’t actually know until persons are beginning to get called back to work or there is a shift or move in that direction,” he said.
“So the announcement can be good, but it depends on where these people who are coming are going to be staying, if they are actually going to be staying in the hotels. We want them in the hotels for sure.”
D’Aguilar has also called for more Bahamians to get vaccinated, particularly those who work in the hospitality industry, so that visitors can feel safer traveling to The Bahamas.
Woods admitted that the tone among the members in his union regarding the vaccine remains one of skepticism.
“All of the reports that we’re getting is persons are still watching and waiting to see. There has not been an overwhelming response. We have been communicating with our shop stewards to try to ascertain the mood of the people at this time, there’s still a kind of wait and see, but there are some who have done it,” he said.