By Candia Dames
Journal Staff Writer
Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson said Thursday he may seek permission for a strike vote at the Radisson Cable Beach Resort and claimed that the Hotel Corporation has “undermined” an industrial agreement signed last November.
But Corporation Chairman George Smith said officials are being “very faithful to the terms of the agreement.”
Mr. Ferguson, who also heads the Bahamas Hotel Managerial Association, said the BHMA agreed to cancel an arrangement made under the FNM administration to grant the more than 200 managers and supervisors at the property a 7 percent raise and a $4,000 lump sum payment.
But the new contract contained no arrangements for salary increases.
“The sale of the hotel was about to happen and they put to us that the economic position affecting the Corporation was bad,” said Mr. Ferguson, who added that he agreed to the terms because he wanted to ensure that there was an agreement in place which would guarantee the workers proper compensation when the hotel is sold.
He told the Journal that the Corporation has gone ahead and “selectively” paid $100 to $200 per week raises to certain managers and supervisors.
“If you say there is no money, you can’t go and give some of the workers money. Either you give it to all or you give it to none because it would create a problem. If the company selectively decides to [grant raises], what it does is undermine the whole credibility between the employer and employee,” he said.
The Corporation said in a letter to Mr. Ferguson on June 1 it was willing to pay the workers a $500 lump sum payment (no payment date specified); a four percent salary increase in January 2005; another $500 lump sum payment in 2006 and another four percent raise in 2007. This arrangement would go two years beyond the life of the present contract.
But with the hotel up for sale, Mr. Ferguson said this arrangement makes no sense.
“This is to undermine the Association and discredit and undermine the leadership of the Association,” Mr. Ferguson charged. “I have put the workers on alert. They are now awaiting my instructions. They have rejected what the Corporation put to us. We totally reject it.”
Mr. Ferguson said he would like an arrangement where the Corporation would offer the workers the entire 8 percent in 2005; a $2,500 lump sum payment now and $1,500 upon the sale of the hotel.
“I think that would be a reasonable compromise,” he said.
Mr. Ferguson also said he intends to call an emergency meeting of the TUC which is not prepared to allow the Corporation to take the workers for a ride.
But Mr. Smith seemed puzzled that the matter has reached the press and appears to be escalating. He intimated that Mr. Ferguson could very well be over-reacting.
“The Myers group which is the management company may have done some realignments or promotions that are certainly in their scope of authority,” he told the Journal. “In any event, the Corporation has a good relationship with the Association.”
However, Mr. Ferguson said the Corporation and the government appear to be operating in a manner detrimental to Radisson employees.
He also said the Association is concerned about the future of these workers once the hotel is sold.
Prime Minister Perry Christie announced during his budget communication to parliament two weeks ago that the government is moving ahead with plans to sell the Cable Beach hotel and intends to obtain a net $10 million for the Treasury.
Mr. Ferguson found it absurd that the Corporation would make an offer that extends to 2007 when the government intends to sell the hotel any day now.
Mr. Smith said negotiations for the sale of the property are going well.
When asked how selling the hotel would impact workers, he said, “We are very mindful to protect Bahamian jobs as much as possible. That is uppermost in the minds of the Corporation and the government.
“That is why I would have thought that any misunderstandings that now exist with the Association would have been addressed and discussed.”
He said the Corporation is not in the practice of micromanaging the hotel.
“We’re trying to focus on the bigger picture in terms of bringing about a successful conclusion to the negotiations,” Mr. Smith said.