Trade Unions & Industrial Disputes Part 1

Trade Unions & Industrial Disputes – Part 1
By Apostle Cedric Moss

Bahamas- January 01,2004


2003 will probably go down in history as the year with the most serious labour unrest our country has seen in modern times. While many of the 2003 disputes have been or are being resolved, at the time of this writing (January 1, 2004), the very public contract negotiations dispute between the Bahamas Hotel Catering & Allied Workers Union (BHC) and the Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (BHEA) continue and the end does not seem to be in sight.

Today I offer the first of a two-part commentary on industrial disputes generally and the BHC and BHE dispute specifically.

Prefatory Remarks
I wish I did not have to preface my remarks at all but in an attempt to minimize being misunderstood, I offer the following preface.

First of all, I have not been privy to any aspect of the ongoing negotiations between BHC and BHEA nor am I aware of the points of differences and the reasoning behind the positions held on these points. Therefore, I do not write in support of either side and as such hold a neutral position.

Concerning trade unions, as a matter of principle, I support them. My support is not based on the fact that our constitution and laws permit them…I fundamentally support the philosophy of labourers acting corporately to represent their general welfare and interests as a necessary part of the production equation.

Similar to my support for organized labour, I support free enterprise and the right of investors to enjoy the rewards of their entrepreneurship as well as to form associations among themselves to represent their general welfare and interests.

The Greatest Concern
Of all the labour disputes, the dispute between BHC and BHEA is of greatest concern. There is a primary and simple reason for this: Our nation is highly dependent upon tourism as its economic lifeblood. So we are all affected, perhaps not immediately but certainly inevitably, by how things go in the hospitality industry. Therefore, the negotiators for both BHC and BHEA must see their stewardship beyond the immediate constituencies they represent and be conscious of the welfare of Bahamians in general as they adopt positions.

The Strike Vote
Recently, BHC members voted to strike but according to press reports, only 17% of the union members eligible to vote actually voted. Obviously our laws allow for a simple majority of those who vote to determine whether a union will be certified to initiate strike action or not. In this regard, I do not fault Mr. Pat Bain and his leadership team for using the results of the vote: They have a legal mandate to strike. However, like many others, while recognizing the legal right to strike, I question whether 17% provides a moral mandate to strike. In addition, I believe the results raise some other important questions related to the 87% of persons who, for whatever reasons, did not participate in the vote. Is it that they are contented with their present employment conditions and voted by not voting? Is it that they are indifferent?

The Infamous Go Slow
I share the view of many that the decision to call for a go-slow during the state visit of President Thabo Embeki was a national embarrassment and poor judgment. This is not an attack on Mr. Pat Bain and his leadership team; it is just my considered view. I do not know Mr. Bain other than in the press and he seems to be an intelligent, informed and responsible union leader who is genuinely concerned with the welfare of his members.

However, I believe the now infamous go slow incident raises a fundamental question: Is it fair for employees to intentionally reduce their work productivity and still expect to be paid normal wages based on the usual higher productivity? The answer of all fair-minded people is a simple but resounding no. As such I support relevant legislation to outlaw go slows and to make clear the right of employers to cut the pay of employees who intentionally produce less than they have been contracted for and are capable of. After all, it is only fair.

Preview of Next Week
Join me next week when I will conclude my comments by addressing the practice of sickouts by employees and stalling strategies of employers, among other things. Until then, best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2004!


Apostle Cedric Moss serves as Senior Pastor at Kingdom Life World Outreach Centre. Commentary and feedback may be directed to: apostle@kingdom-life.org

 

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