Key Morton Salt issues 'remain outstanding'

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter​

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

The lead negotiator for Morton Salt's line staff union says that despite "some movement" in talks between the two sides​ the key issues of salary increases and medical insurance remain unresolved.

Obie Ferguson, who is also the Trades Union Congress (TUC) president, confirmed to Tribune Business that while some issues were worked out at last Thursday's meeting between the company and Bahamas Industrial, Manufacturers & Allied Workers Union (BIMAWU), the major ones remain outstanding. Negotiations are now scheduled to resume in late September.​

"There has been some movement but the major issues that are still outstanding is the question of salary and insurance," Mr Ferguson said. "There has been some improvement and a tentative agreement on certain aspects of it, but the major issues are salary increase and insurance.

"We have another meeting scheduled for September 30. We have to iron those two issues out and come to some arrangement. Once those items would have been resolved we would be ready to have the industrial agreement concluded."

Mr Ferguson had previously argued that Morton Salt's proposal was a "deficit industrial agreement", and called for salary increases that matched the inflation rate.​

Explaining what he meant, the TUC chief said the base salary increases offered to workers over the proposed industrial agreement's three-year term - 1.5 percent for each of the first two years, and 1.9 percent for the final year - were lower than the current rate of inflation and cost of living increases, which have both been impacted by last year's VAT rate hike.​

And, Mr Ferguson argued, the increase in staff contributions to their health insurance coverage would more than offset the positive effect from salary increases.​

Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, previously said resolving the Morton Salt dispute was "a top priority for the sake of all Inagua residents".​

The battle between Morton Bahamas and the BIMAWU escalated in late June after the company, in a letter exposing its growing exasperation and frustration over the two sides' "impasse", accused the line staff union of failing to negotiate "in good faith" and disrupting "the economic viability" of its Bahamian operations.​

Morton Salt executive, Christopher Getaz, told Jennifer Brown, the BIMAWU president, that her members would be locked out of its facilities from July 3 unless the company received a reply indicating the two sides can reach a "happy medium" over a new industrial agreement.​

Noting the union's possession of a strike certificate, and previous threats of industrial action, Mr Getaz also blamed reduced productivity and work slowdowns on the BIMAWU's influence, and suggested that the "lock-out" was required to redress the negotiating balance.​

These actions, he alleged, included "an operating deficit in all harvest levels" on a daily, weekly, monthly and year-to-date basis to February 22, 2019; "significantly lower boat loading rates" in February and March; and a "reduction to lowest loading rates", which caused "significant costs and placed the company at risk of missing the contract for de-icing salt" around early March.​

"The foregoing requires the company to consider whether, in the declared industrial action climate, it is necessary for the company to lock employees out of the plant in furtherance of the company's bargaining objectives in negotiations for a new industrial agreement," Mr Getaz told the union.​

"We invite a response from you within the next 15 days with a view to arriving at a happy medium between the parties. Failing such a response, or the arrival to a happy medium between the parties, the company intends to proceed with its lock-out at the expiry of 15 days from the fate of this letter."​

Mr Getaz added that the company's June 13 offer to the union was its "best and final" position, and said: "The company is not in a position to make further offers."​

The "lock-out" was averted after intervention by the government. In response, the union's Ms Brown had told this newspaper that Inagua would become "a ghost town" should Morton Salt follow through with its threat. She added that while the BIMAWU wanted an industrial deal it would "not sign for stupidness".​