Bahamas Labour Leaders At Odds Over Freedom Of Association

Labour Leaders At Odds Over Freedom Of Association





Two leaders of the country's trade union umbrella organizations have different views on whether proposed legislation should soon be brought to parliament to enact the much talked about ILO Convention 87.


This would allow workers to join the union of their choice, as opposed to the union of their craft.


Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson continues to press the government to pass the necessary laws to give employees the right to choose.


But National Congress of Trade Unions President Pat Bain believes now is not the time to take such a step because he said all parties concerned have not yet been properly educated on the Convention.


Minister of Labour Vincent Peet announced recently that officials at the Attorney General's office are drafting amendments to the relevant pieces of legislation to enact the Convention.


Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham sees this as an unwise move.


While making his budget communication last Thursday night, Mr. Ingraham said he was concerned by the inappropriate policy announcements of the Progressive Liberal Party Government.


Although the Convention was ratified under his administration, Mr. Ingraham said, "Now, when we seek to make ourselves even more attractive to good direct foreign investment, is not the time to talk about ILO 87."


He added, "I trust that this is more bark than bite and that the PLP government recognizes that legislating this Convention at this time could have a negative impact upon the investment climate and business environment."


Mr. Ferguson told the Journal Friday that he found these comments "surprising."


"It was the FNM government that put forward the ILO 87 resolution and had it ratified and registered so I don't understand that, but no progressive country would want to think along those lines," he said. "It is inextricably connected to the World Trade Organization."


Mr. Ferguson added, "Investors can't turn away because WTO is driven by foreign investment.  It is a multinational trading regime and that is one of their conditions."


He said he believes that freedom of association would force unions to be more efficient.


"If they're not happy with my leadership, the members have a choice, just like with the FNM and PLP," Mr. Ferguson said. "People must have choices all over the world."


He said the right to choose is fundamental and he doubts that the government would work against that.


Mr. Ferguson also said that he wrote to Minister of Labour Vincent Peet requesting a copy of the draft amendments. But Minister Peet said Sunday that he was still awaiting the proposed amendments from the AG's office.


Mr. Ferguson added that ILO 87 "would support democracy."


Mr. Bain, said, meanwhile, that the Convention is very confusing and education is key before any laws are passed to legislate it.


He said that is precisely why the NCTU is planning a seminar on July 24 with regional trade union experts to discuss the pros and cons of the Convention.


"While I am right now ambivalent about it, I say let's have the education process going through before we make the legislative changes," Mr. Bain told the Journal Sunday.


He noted the challenges that would be involved in negotiating industrial contracts for members of a particular union who may belong to many different professions.


"It's confusing in that for 30 years or more we were operating on the basis of craft unions," Mr. Ferguson said. "Let's proceed with caution…Let's ensure there are discussions first."


While he is against legislating the Convention at this time, Mr. Bain disagreed with Mr. Ingraham that it could have a negative impact on the investment climate.


"Unionisation is always being used as a means against foreign investment," said the NCTU president, who added that it is not.




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