By Syann Thompson
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATLANTIS has called last week’s protest by disgruntled union members “unlawful” and unjustified, as it was held the same day a hotel representative was set to sign off multiple sections of a new labour contract.
A statement from Audrey Oswell, Atlantis president and managing director, to Atlantis workers, said the Bahamas Hotel Employers Association is engaged in “positive negotiations” for a new labour contract. She added hotel executives want to work quickly to address workers’ most pressing concern — increasing their wages — and are ready to negotiate to get a new agreement signed.
“At the outset, the BHEA agreed to the four-month negotiation schedule requested by the union, knowing that it was a tight timeline,” the statement noted. “We have been moving toward our shared goal with every intention of completing negotiations by late December.”
Ms Oswell said executives were “surprised” by the union’s protest instead of meeting with them to continue talks to nail down a new agreement.
“The day of labour activity, Russell Miller, chairman of the BHEA, was scheduled to meet with Darren Wood to sign off on 36 of 48 sections of the industrial agreement that have been mutually agreed upon by the union and the BHEA. In addition to being unlawful, we do not believe that the labour action was justified or productive for the hotel or our colleagues and our share goal of a signed agreement,” she noted.
Ms Oswell also said hotel executives are committed to negotiating with the union “seven days a week” until a new labour agreement is inked.
“We want to move immediately on what matters most to our team members — increasing pay cheques — as we quickly approach the holiday season. . . we are ready to meet the union at the negotiating table to get the job done,” Ms Oswell noted.
Atlantis workers went back on the job on Friday after disgruntled union members protested a day earlier – leaving a scramble to address the grievances of staff.
The Tribune understands that shortly after the demonstration outside Atlantis on Thursday, the acting Minister of Labour Marvin Dames met with executives of the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union to hash out their industrial issues and plans to continue discussions until there is a resolution.
The workers walked off the job during one of the biggest seasons for tourism in the country, the American Thanksgiving Day holiday, citing unresolved issues with their industrial agreement. Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar expressed his disappointment with the industrial action during what he called a critical period for business. The minister confirmed that an injunction was filed against workers picketing at Atlantis.
“As you can imagine, our tourism sector was inflicted with millions upon millions of dollars with negative public relations as a result of Hurricane Dorian. The tourism sector is reeling from the effects of that negative public relations,” said Mr D’Aguilar.
He added: “This is the period, this is the time of year where we must demonstrate to the world that despite their lack of knowledge about the geography of the Bahamas and their impression that the Bahamas as a country has been destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, that is very important that when people come here that they find first of all that the country is not destroyed.”
During the protest, the president of the Bahamas Catering and Allied Workers Union, Darren Woods, told reporters that the walk-out was to show the powers-that-be that they have had enough. “The workers in the hospitality industry, the members of the hotel union are tired,” he said.
Protestors included workers from the maintenance and housekeeping departments. A housekeeping staff member told a local media outlet that she is frustrated that the cost of living continues to increase but their salaries have not increased. “Everybody can come say how the hotel is booming and everyone making money, but we have yet to make anything, you cannot go to the bank to get a loan for a house because of your set salary and for us that is only $196 per week,” she said.
Another housekeeper, Princess Adderley, told Our News that many of her co-workers supported Mr D’Aguilar’s Superwash laundromat, but only wanted what they feel is due to them.
“D’Aguilar is my man of business what talkin’ fool. Half of us out here support his wash house. . .his washer and dryer came in duty-free but he still went up on them, taxing the poor people and you want come on the media talkin’ fool ‘bout don’t strike? We’ll walk over you (if) you come here,” the housekeeper said.
The hotel workers union want a registered industrial agreement and stakeholders are said to be negotiating with the hotel union to achieve that.