It was my intent to conclude my commentary on this subject today. However, having decided to say more than I initially intended, the Lord willing, I will conclude next week.
At the time of this writing, January 12, 2004, negotiations between The Bahamas Hotel Catering & Allied Workers Union (BHC) and The Bahamas Hotel Employers Association (BHEA) continue and we continue to pray that they are concluded soon in a just manner for all.
I recall several weeks ago listening
to the news reports covering the Bahamasair sickout, the resulting pay cuts and
the protests by the union regarding those pay cuts. I listened in sheer
amazement as I heard a union official admit they staged a sickout and at the
same time complained that their pay should not have been cut. That does not add
up! Clearly, companies have the right to cut the salaries of employees who stay
off from work when they (or dependents, if allowed) are not sick, even if it is
one or two days for which they are not required to produce a doctors
certificate evidencing their sickness. This right to cut is especially evident
when they or their representatives publicly acknowledge that a sickout was
Sick days are for the specific purpose for which they are earmarked…sickness, and not for making a point to management in union negotiations or for any other purpose. The tragedy of such actions is that workers are paid for work they did not do, adding to the company’s actual losses suffered and future losses coming from disgruntled customers as a result of the sick out. Hopefully, that correct and courageous action of the Board of Bahamasair (to cut the pay of those involved in the sickout) will go a long way in discouraging this practice in our nation.
Sadly, many employees feel as though sick days are their entitlement, whether they are sick or not, and some ensure that they “use up” their sick days in a given year, sometimes to do things sick people can’t or shouldn’t do.
Christians & Industrial Disputes
It is reasonable to conclude that in a
nation like The Bahamas, many Christians are involved in industrial disputes,
on both the union and management sides. However, whether on the side of union
or management, Christians have to ensure that their allegiance is first to
Christ and His Kingdom and not the union or management constituency they are a
part of or represent. For example, Christians ought not to condone or
participate in go slows, sickouts and similar practices because they
misrepresent the values of the Kingdom of God. Likewise, those who follow
Christ and serve in management or on management negotiation teams should not
victimize and intimidate workers or unjustly withhold fair compensation because
such actions misrepresent the values of the Kingdom of God to which they owe
their primary citizenship. Christians on both sides must abstain from practices
that are contrary to the Kingdom way.
Role of Government
When negotiations in some high profile
industrial disputes stalemate, governments generally intervene as we are seeing
in the case of BHC and BHEA. While it is important for them to intervene, it is
also important for them to speak candidly to both sides. If in the government’s
view one side is being unreasonable or unfair or if both are, it should be
pointed out clearly and candidly. Please note: I am not implying that the
government is not doing this in the present dispute…I don’t know. I state it
generally because the unfortunate reality is that far too many governments
wrongly pander towards workers for votes or towards powerful investors for jobs
and at times lack the courage to take the right position for fear of political
Governments are elected to lead in the country’s best interest and not their party’s best interest, even if it means offending large amounts of voters in powerful trade unions or large investor cartels. One thing is certain: opting for the easy political road in disputes does not solve problems. It merely defers and compounds the problem, which will have to be dealt with eventually at a higher cost. So our prayers are with the government to lead in this matter in our national best interest.
Role of the Opposition
Clearly, this industrial dispute
between BHC and BHEA is a prime example of an issue which the government and
opposition should be able be bipartisan about and visibly work together on.
Sadly, this does not seem to be the case as was evidenced in the FNM’s
objection to Prime Minister Christie’s public apology to President Thabo Embeki
and their call for him to now apologize to the workers. While they may be
sincerely convicted about their position, it seems to me they were playing
politics and seeking to curry favour with workers for obvious reasons. That, in
my view, was not helpful, especially considering the gravity of this situation.
First of all, President Embeki was in a sense the guest of all Bahamian citizens and residents, and the apology ought to have been public because the inconvenience and embarrassment were public. I wonder if those objecting to the Prime Minister’s public apology would feel the same way if they had invited a guest to their home for a few days and one of two family members involved in a domestic dispute acted in a manner that unnecessarily inconvenienced their guest and embarrassed them. I know I’m speculating but I think they would promptly apologize to the guest in front of those present (and further discipline the family member when the guest leaves). Doing so would honour the guest, enable all present to know such conduct is unacceptable and hopefully ensure it does not happen again.
So, I urge the Opposition to take a bipartisan approach to the BHC and BHEA negotiations and other issues that are not political but national.