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2004-07-17 12:00:48

Strike threat against Atlantis

The threat of industrial action looms on the horizon again for Kerzner International if it fails to recognize 90 poolside attendants as unionized members.

Secretary General of The Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU), Leo Douglas, said industrial action against the multi-million dollar operation could take place "in short order" if the demand is not met.

According to Mr Douglas, the pool and beach employees who have always been recognized as union members, have been separated by the management of Sun Atlantis. He claimed the hotel's pool property at Atlantis have been "purportedly leased out" to another company, Jeff Ellis International, leaving the workers without union representation.

He explained however, that the lifeguard workers at the beachside remain within the bargaining unit of the union.

When contacted Kerzner International Director of Public Relations Ed Fields told The Guardian: "I don't know anything about that. I will have to get back to you." The call was not returned up to press time.

"What has happened to these Bahamian workers is unfair and unusual," Mr Douglas said on Thursday through a press release. "Pool and beach side (workers) have always been a part of the hotel union industrial contract. Now Kerzner is making the claim that they have leased out the pool on their property to an unknown company leaving these workers at risk, outside of an industrial agreement."

He explained that the employees have since organized themselves and are now seeking representation under the hotel workers union. An application was made on their behalf on June 23 to the Ministry of Labour.

"These poolside workers are now said to be employed by a company named Jeff Ellis International Ltd., Paradise Island, an unknown entity to the hotel union or to most people in The Bahamas. We see it only as another "new name company" within the group of companies of the Kerzner Group and we will not allow them to get away with trying to pull a fast one on the poolside workers," Mr Douglas said.

"We in the hotel union are quite sure that this apparent new group is a part of the Kerzner Group and so we have made application to Mr Ron Guest who is said to be the president of the new company, seeking recognition as the Bargaining Agent for the poolside workers outlining that we have more than 51 per cent in the bargaining unit," he added.

Mr Douglas said an application was also forwarded to Ministry of Labour and Immigration, and a subsequent letter was sent to all parties concerned to hold a meeting of resolution on the matter by July 6. However, he said there was no response from Jeff Ellis International. The union, Mr Douglas said have since written to Labour Minister Vincent Peet in accordance with the Industrial Act requesting him to make a determination on the matter and for the hotel union to be the bargaining agents on behalf of the poolside employees.

President of Jeff Ellis International Ron Guest told the Guardian that his company has had the management contract to operate for two years, and as far as he knew the workers were never represented by the union.

Questioned as to whether he received an application from the union seeking recognition as the bargaining agent for the poolside workers, Mr Guest said that was between him and the union.

Told that BHCAWU had claimed to have done so, he said: "They are jumping the gun a bit. Things are at a very early stage and it is far too early for me to comment on anything."

Mr Guest declined to comment further on the matter and stated that any further comment would come from his lawyer.

BHCAWU general secretary said it was his hope that Minister Peet would "speed up" the process and not leave the workers out in the cold lingering for too long."

Mr Douglas explained that experience has taught the union that during the long waiting periods the workers are "picked off and harassed by management."

"I also understand that this company has already started to mess with the poolside workers, but I wish to warn them, if they persist we will have some big problems over there. Kerzner International knows full well that the pool area is a part of their property and that the workers there have been dealt a bad deal. If Kerzner International knows what is in their best interest they would fix this situation immediately. The hotel union will not allow this situation to go unchallenged," Mr Douglas said, warning "fix it now or pay the price later."

BY KEVA LIGHTBOURNE,Guardian Staff Reporter

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