Without worker participation, creating a ‘Plan for Re-entry into the Tourism Market’ is wrong

Dear Editor,

At age 18, I was elected a shop steward for the Airport, Airline and Allied Workers Union.

I later served as the union’s secretary general and concurrently executive vice president of the Bahamas Federation of Trade Unions, under the tutelage and leadership of Cadwell Armbrister, before moving on to a career in frontline politics and time as a personnel manager in the tourism Industry.

I hope for a sensible process to re-establish our tourism industry to provide jobs, profits and foreign currency to our economy.

I do not think that anyone wants less. We all, also, want it to happen as soon as is good for both the short and long term. I am not an enemy of the concept of “re-entering the tourism market”.

Recently, the government appointed a “Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee” to develop a “Plan for Re-entry into the Tourism Market”.

Last Tuesday, the Ministry of Tourism held a press conference to confirm that a draft plan for “re-opening our tourism economy had been developed”.

The minister of tourism and the director general of tourism made opening remarks. They both confirmed that the “plan” was developed by a committee made of government departments’ representatives and the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA).

The draft plan was released online the same day.

In the foreword it reads, among other things, “To create this proposed plan, the TRRC (headed by the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) and The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism) worked alongside public and private sector partners including The Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board (NPIPB), Paradise Island Tourism Development Association (PITDA), Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board (BOIPB), Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board (GBITB), Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD), Nassau Cruise Ports, Association of Bahamas Marinas, Hutchison Ports Bahamas (Grand Bahama Airport Co., Freeport Harbour Co., and Freeport Container Port) and The Bahamas Ministry of Health (BMOH).”

It will be noted that none of the trade unions representing workers in the tourism industry are included in the listing in the paragraph immediately above.

The listing of 73 committee members in the draft plan does not include a single trade unionist identified as such.

During their introductory remarks at the press conference, neither the minister nor the director general indicated that industry trade unions were involved in preparation of the draft plan or were invited to participate and declined to do so.

How were the concerns of the health and well-being of workers addressed without their structural involvement?

Now, to be clear, since I personally know some of the committee members, I state that the committee includes some very excellent people who would be concerned about securing the safety and well-being of workers and guests. But that is beside the point!

I suspect that union leaders will be invited to opine on the draft plan now that their input can be easily ignored. But I certainly understand that, even now, unions will have to involve themselves somehow to seek to serve the interests of their members.

The problem is that, though this gross insult to workers and trade unions angers me, it does not surprise me.

We suffer from a neoliberal bent in the mindset of our political leaders and in both the business and intellectual leadership of our country. Workers are treated as but another cog in the wheel of industry but not with any rights other than a pay check at the end of a work period.

In contrast, I see workers as partners in an enterprise, therefore a fundamental stakeholder at the very least equal in status to capital and deserving of respect; unfortunately, the government does not, most employers do not and, sadly, even some trade unionists and workers do not. But then, I am a believer in the concept of social justice.

Workers are not an enslaved group, designed to be provided just enough to keep them producing for the barest minimum in wages and benefits.

Workers are entitled to respect as partners with capital in the production of goods and services for sale in the marketplace.

I pray that those in the faith community who profess a belief in what is called, by some, the tenets of the “social gospel” and within my own faith community which celebrates the tradition of “Catholic social teaching”, will join in a campaign to reintroduce to our society these essential concepts of love and respect for the immediate and long term good of our way of life.

I fear, if we do not, that the abuse which will continue to be levied on workers will cause them to rise in righteous indignation and damage our necessary re-building efforts.

We cannot seek to just bring back the previous “normal” where workers were casually abused, and immoral, but successful, employers were hailed as heroes of commerce.

We cannot allow the children of workers to see their parents deprived of rights and expect them to grow up and be positive participants in the future economy.

We are at a critical turning point in our country.

We will face hardships for some time to come, but how we exit the bad times will be determined by our actions during the effort to extract ourselves.

If we casually permit abusive behavior by any element in society to be excused “owing to our present circumstances” we will ensure structural abuse in all we do, for it is a truism that “… you reap whatever you sow”. (NRSV Bible, Galatians 6:7, chapter 6 is well worth a full read!)

– Philip P. Smith

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