By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A former hotel union leadership contender believes re-hired Sandals Royal Bahamian staff will be too scared to join a trade union, and described August’s 592-strong termination as “clearly union busting”.
Dave Beckford told Tribune Business that while Sandals had every right to close the Cable Beach property down in order to improve the guest experience, its former staff were also entitled to have received notice of the terminations.
And he suggested that the summer’s events would intimidate workers from joining a trade union, while making it difficult for the Bahamas Hotel, Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU) to regain the membership level needed to maintain its ‘bargaining agent’ status.
“I support Mr Obie Ferguson 100 per cent,” Mr Beckford said of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) president, and the BHMAWU’s main sponsor. “I hope all those workers terminated are reinstated to their previous positions.
“I think it was clearly union busting, and disrespectful to workers, the union and the Government. The employer has the right to renovate his hotel, but if you’re going to renovate for just two-three months, why terminate the workers? You’re going to need them again.”
Mr Beckford reiterated his opinion that Sandals’ actions were “clearly union busting”, given that within two-three weeks of the terminations that resort chain staged a job fair where it invited new recruits to interview for positions at Royal Bahamian once it re-opened.
Many in the private sector, though, are arguing that Sandals was well within its legal rights to terminate its workforce, paying them what was due under the Employment Act, and then seek out new workers who could improve the guest experience, service and productivity.
And the all-inclusive chain added that the extent, and nature, of the renovation work required at Royal Bahamian would have made it impossible for it to provide the expected guest experience amid a construction site.
However, others believe that Sandals also used the renovations as a way to remove the BHMAWU, as the temperature rose in the two sides’ relationship, culminating in street blockages and the union initiating a court prosecution against Royal Bahamian’s senior management executives.
Mr Beckford said he was among those who subscribed to the ‘union busting’ theory, and predicted that the BHMAWU would face a difficult task in maintaining both a presence among Royal Bahamian’s new workforce and its ‘bargaining agent’ status.
“Once they open back up, the union will have to go and get ‘50 per cent plus one’ to be part of it,” Mr Beckford told Tribune Business of the threshold required for bargaining agent status.
“How many of the workers are going to be interested in joining the union when they saw what was happening to the former employees who were terminated?
“You kicked the union right out. I don’t think the Government should allow this to happen. The table needs to be balanced. We want the employer to be successful, and for the workers to be productive and provide good service. The employees should be the employer’s greatest asset. This is just common sense.”
Mr Beckford also echoed Mr Ferguson in warning that the Sandals situation “sets a dangerous precedent for current and future hotel workers”.
He expressed concerns at the implications for the sector’s expanded labour force at the newly-opened Marriott Courtyard and Warwick Paradise Island properties, and resorts still in development, such as Baha Mar and The Pointe.
Mr Beckford backed the Government’s proposal to change the Employment Act so that employers must notify both it and union ‘bargaining agents’ some 60 days in advance of their intention to make 10 or more employees redundant.
He said this issue had emerged several years before the recent Sandals terminations, pointing to Baha Mar’s lay-offs at the former Wyndham property as one instance where affected staff received no warning.
Mr Beckford also supported the Government’s proposal to lift the 12-year ‘cap’ on redundancy pay in the Employment Act, arguing that the sums it provided for were insufficient for staff who had given the same company 20 or 30 years’ service.
“Industrial relations between the Government, the unions and the employers have to be improved to avoid situations like this,” Mr Beckford told Tribune Business.
“Lay-offs and redundancies are necessary, but let’s do it the right way. That’s all we’re saying.”