By Alison Lowe
Nassau Guardian Business Editor
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Over 400 unionized employees of Sandals Royal Bahamian resort are set to vote by the end of the week on whether strike action will occur at the all-inclusive resort, an outcome attorney and trade union leader Obie Ferguson said he sees as probable and potentially immediate.
This comes as Ferguson said the public is likely to see a general “escalation” of the activities of unions, in particular those under the Trade Union Congress’s (TUC) umbrella.
“We are not very happy with the route that employers are taking with respect to these labor matters, and therefore it’s necessary in order to protect the workers of the country,” said Ferguson, head of the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU), in an interview with Guardian Business on Monday.
Continuing a theme that saw tensions rise last year to the point of a strike vote being taken among members of the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU) in May, Ferguson said the primary issue is that Sandals Royal Bahamian resort, located on Cable Beach, will not negotiate with the union, which has been certified by the Department of Labour, according to Ferguson.
“The main issue is that Sandals has decided not to treat with the union, as required by section 41 of the Industrial Relations Act,” he said. The union has been in existence for a number of years but has not entered into negotiations with the hotel on an industrial agreement during that time. He added that other concerns include the termination of a number of staff, and the resort allegedly blocking access of union executives to the employees on the property.
In the initial vote in 2013, 267 workers voted for strike action. However, this was successfully challenged by Sandals. The resort had said there was no oversight of the polling exercise by Ministry of Labour personnel; that it was not conducted fairly; and that workers appeared to have been “coerced.”
Sandals has previously denied claims of union busting. On Monday Ferguson described their efforts as “legal gymnastics.”
Given that last year’s strike vote was declared void, Ferguson said he sees Friday’s vote as the concluding chapter of that effort which began last year.
Ferguson said: “I’m almost certain that the results would be overwhelming. It’s difficult for workers to pay dues – $10 a week – and not get representation. Striking is not the preferred position of the union, we want to negotiate with Sandals, but Sandals is not willing to sit down and negotiate.”
The attorney added that under Section 42 of the Industrial Relations Act, a company is required to enter into negotiations towards an industrial agreement once a union is recognized under the law.
Contacted for comment on Monday, Sandals did not provide a statement up to press time.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian