The “laundry list” of issues facing workers in Grand Bahama is expected to take center stage at the Sir Randol Fawkes Labour Day Rally, Friday (June 4).
This year, union leaders announced that they will forgo the traditional parade and instead, there will be a motorcade which is scheduled to leave the International Bazaar at 8:00 a.m. and end at the BUT Belinda M. Wilson Complex.
Each union representative will have the opportunity to share the challenges they are experiencing with a particular employer.
Paramount for the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT), presently, is the concern of the COVID-19 vaccination, whether it will be mandatory or not, for them to take.
According to BUT Area Vice President for Grand Bahama Quinton Laroda, fourth vice president of the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB), teachers in Grand Bahama were the first to return to face-to-face teaching on October 5, 2020.
“The teachers in Grand Bahama made the incredible decision that despite the fears and concerns about COVID-19, they were going to perform their roles in the community and make their contributions.
“Many of the teachers said to me that they were ready to get back into the classroom. They thought the online learning put the students at a disadvantage, and they wanted to be in the room with their youngsters,” he noted.
Laroda added that the level of social consciousness was to be commended.
“And so, when Mr. (Ivan) Butler (District Superintendent of Education) came to me with Dr. (Frank) Bartlett (COVID-19 Task Force Chairman, GB) to say they were developing a plan for handling the pandemic; we sat and agreed. A plan was conceived, we were provided with all the measures to keep all safe.
“The teams inspected schools from time-to-time to ensure that everything was going according to protocols. We have had 14 teachers infected with COVID since October and thankfully, there have been no deaths.
“So, we were doing quite well. Our kids were at a disadvantage from Dorian (Hurricane of September 2019) and so, those teachers were very brave. On that, and this is what I want to say to the management of the schools – principals and vice principals – if you see a teacher/teachers take it upon themselves, to play that pivotal role and go the extra mile; how can you, if they arrive five minutes late, harass them?
“Standing by a register … there is no place for the level of stupidity. You are frustrating the system, because those teachers could have easily said they would stay home,” Laroda stated.
He called on those responsible to stop and give the teachers the respect they deserve.
Additionally, he urged the government to look into a change of legislation to amend the Industrial Tribunal Act.
“One thing I am particularly concerned about, as someone, who has practiced at the Industrial Tribunal, is the inability of the Tribunal to enforce its own ruling, instead of having to submit to the Supreme Court.
“I think that needs to be amended in some way, because you have to hold people accountable if they violate the rights of the worker, if they don’t obey the Employment Act or the Industrial Agreements. And so, I am looking forward to that change in particular,” Laroda said.
He called for an understanding between all parties.
“There has to be an understanding of the employer to the value of the worker, to the success of their business. There has to be an understanding from the employee, that the owners are in business for profit, and you are a part of the profit generating mechanism. And so, it behooves both of them to sit at the table and reasonably settle their issues, and reasonably award compensations for contributions.
“I am one who has always been trying to educate … but I find that a lot of employers, especially the ones who don’t have unions, are not cognizant of their obligations under the law and they mistreat workers, not realizing that they are violating their rights.
“A lot of the workers accept the mistreatment, because they don’t know what their rights are by law and so, I think the next step in the labour movement is to educate the average worker and the average employer,” Laroda noted.
Vice President of the Bahamas Hotel Managerial Association (BHMA) Kirkland “Kirk” Russell, vice president of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Trade Union of Congress (CBTUC), added that while he has a number of concerns, top of the list is the “causal work phenomenon.”
“There is no position in the country, whether in the Employment Act or any other act for the causal worker,” said Russell.
He added that a causal worker is best defined as a baseless worker with no benefits, no security, no protection, and an employee who cannot defend him or herself.
That “phenomenon” cannot and should not exist in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
“That is devastating the work force here in GB, particularly in the industrial park and large business sector. We believe this type of work status has no place in this country. We believe it is the rankest form of slave work that you could find. We believe that it puts workers in a baseless position and it puts the country at a disadvantage economically
“We say to the companies that are practicing this particular form of work, to cease and desist, to discontinue with this form of labor. We believe it adds to the poverty level,” Russell said.
He laments the lack of protection against the casual worker situation.
“And what is so sad about the causal work phenomenon is the fact that there is no law in the country to govern it. One of the achievements of the 1958 General Strike was the ability for the worker to take action against his or her employer for unfair treatment. As a casual worker, you can’t do it and when a worker cannot represent himself, it’s a problem.”
Another vital issue Russell raised was that of “decent work.”
Decent work includes care income, job protection, opportunities for growth, freedom to organize and associate, freedom to express one’s concern on matters that affect his/her life and the life of their family.
“We have to continue to talk about the nurses’ situation, many of whom suffered great losses during Hurricane Dorian (September 2019) and then the pandemic, going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the health care system functions as best as it could.
“Nurses are still waiting to be paid overtime, still waiting to be paid gratuity payments after making the ultimate sacrifices. Many died during the COVID-19 pandemic fighting to save the lives of Bahamians,” Russell maintained.
He also called for fair treatment and payment for the junior physicians.
“We have to continue talking about the issues at customs and immigrations until they are solved. At those departments, positions that were once held by those who may have retired, those positions are not being filled which means opportunities are denied to lower ranked officers to fill those positions.
“Immigration continues to lament the fact that those in immigration are denied opportunities at the top. Persons from outside of immigration continue to fill positions at the top. And so, those are just some of the issues that concern the movement at this particular time here in GB,” Russell shared.
Area Vice President of BCPOU Grand Bahama and Bimini, Charlice Erris, noted that her union, together with fellow unionists, had to take a stand at the start of the pandemic.
“During this pandemic the BCPOU, which represents BTC and ZNS, had to take a stand and fight to retain our benefits. They were at risk, with the employers trying to decrease our benefits.
“However, by the force of the unions coming together, we said 'no way' and none of our members were disengaged or at risk, and we remained on the job. We are very grateful and thankful for that.
“We too, like many of the other unions, have many things that are outstanding. We have just changed over our CEO, so we are in talks about our industrial agreements. We are in talks about reclassifications. Every month we have leavers, so the morale is kind of low, because some of these positions are not being filled.
“We have plenty things in front of us that we need to get sorted out and we are hoping that when we come to the table, we will be able to get all these things sorted out and our members will be able to get the best from the unions,” Erris added.