Hotel union: We've sent the message

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The hotel union's president is "confident the message has been sent" despite Atlantis obtaining an emergency Supreme Court injunction to prevent further picketing or industrial action.

Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) chief, told Tribune Business that the Thanksgiving Day picketing outside the Paradise Island resort's Coral Towers property had been sparked by unresolved grievances not related to the ongoing industrial agreement talks with hotel employers.

Thursday's events prompted an emergency meeting that day at the Department of Labour involving acting minister of labour, Marvin Dames, who stepped in for Dion Foulkes; John Pinder, director of labour; Atlantis management and the hotel union's leadership.

As a result, the latter two parties met again on Friday at 11am to discuss the issues behind Thursday's picket, which include union concerns over the outsourcing of Atlantis's laundry functions; the housekeeping department's shift change; and various employee terminations.

Mr Woods declined to comment on the outcome of Friday's meeting, other than to say he had been asked to keep quiet after "the minister ordered us to do some stuff". He added, though, that the union and its members will abide by the terms of the court's injunction until both parties appear for a further hearing before Justice Keith Thompson on Friday, December 6.

The injunction, for which a "certificate or urgency" was filed by Atlantis and its attorneys, Ferron Bethell and Camille Cleare of Harry B Sands & Lobosky, bars the union, its officers and employees who do not work at Atlantis from entering the property, "picketing or besetting" it. They also cannot "induce, incite or intimidate" Atlantis employees or guests, or impede access to the resort in any way.

Mr Woods said the union had sent all its members an advisory warning them about the injunction and what they are barred from doing, adding that its "next move" will be determined by the court hearing's outcome on Friday. He questioned, though, whether the resort could obtain an injunction to prevent picketing as the rules governing this were set out in the Industrial Relations Act's schedule two.

"I think the message has been sent," he told Tribune Business. "We were trying to bring awareness to the employees' plight." The union president, though, said was unable to give details on what transpired during the meetings with the government and Atlantis management on both Thursday and Friday.

While agreeing that both the union and Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association (BHREA) had been due to meet on Thanksgiving Day to sign-off on 36 of the 48 clauses agree in their industrial deal talks to-date, Mr Woods said the picketing that same date was unrelated to these negotiations despite member frustrations at how long they were taking.

"The employee contentions were outstanding matters at the Department of Labour that did not get resolved," he added. "It was the shift system, the outsourcing of the laundry at Atlantis. The employees wanted to talk about the contract and their frustrations that it's outstanding, but that's not the reason we were out there."

Mr Pinder, the director of labour, confirmed Mr Woods' explanation of the reasons for why hotel union members picketed on Thursday. He added that the issues in question had "apparently been outstanding for some time", suggesting that the laundry outsourcing had impacted earnings for some.

"Based on the meeting with myself and the acting minister at the time, Mr Dames, I'm very hopeful this matter will be resolved," Mr Pinder told Tribune Business. "If the union had followed the chain of command, it would not have led to this, but they stopped at the senior supervisor level. They did not go to his boss or Russell Miller. Had they done that this matter would have been resolved."

Acknowledging concerns about the timing of the union's actions, given that they coincided with the start of the peak winter tourism season and Dorian's aftermath, the labour chief added: "This is the time hotel workers make their Christmas money, and considering we're coming out of this disaster with Dorian, I expect employers to do the best they can in accommodating their employees so they at least have a decent Christmas and make some money.

"I'm glad it was only picketing and they've not sought to strike at this time. They have already concluded 36 of the 48 items they were supposed to sign up to on Thanksgiving morning. Due to the picketing that did not happen. We expect that to happen very soon, if not today [Friday], and then hammer out the remaining 12 items."

Mr Pinder said all Atlantis staff had reported to work as normal on Friday, adding: "The injunction is to prevent the union from any further industrial action until such time as the matter has been resolved."