Bahamas Hotels Cautiously Optimistic

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THE Hotel Union president said yesterday that the organisation, while financially challenged, is attempting to position itself to sustain its members should the economy further affect employment in the industry.

Nicole Martin said the mood in the industry today, particularly within the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU), is cautious optimism as tourism arrival numbers grow for the moment, and as the beginning of slow season looms just around the corner.

The Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace Casino also plans to close its doors again for six weeks in order to cut operating costs during the slow period.

Baha Mar officials said recently that the closure of the Wyndham accounted for a "significant portion" of the 50 per cent reduction in its 2009 net losses, compared to the year before.

The 2010 Wyndham/Crystal Palace closure will take place between August 23 and October 5, with between 1100 and 1200 staff affected.

Robert Sands, vice president of external affairs for Baha Mar, said "less than 40 per cent" of these were members of the hotel union bargaining unit, since those impacted included management, casino and non-unionised personnel.

Ms Martin was not overly concerned about Wyndham's period closure, noting that hotels often have periodic closures during the slow September period. According to her, Atlantis often closes a number of its food outlets during the particularly slow September period.

However, she said the union is concerned with aligning itself to be in a "position to give back" to its members.

"Members should say they have gained from the union," she said.

Ms Martin said the union is attempting to increase its membership during her presidency in order to replenish the organisation's coffers and bolster its bargaining power.

The union has been lobbying to represent the employees of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, while a second union, the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU), fights at the Privy Council level to do the same.

A decision made by an appellate court recently found that the BHMAWU technically does not exist under the section of the Industrial Relations Act that required the union to be gazetted when it was registered.

Trade Union Congress president, Obie Ferguson, said he and attorney Keod Smith will fight a landmark battle at the Privy Council to ensure that the line in the Act mandating that a trade union be gazetted by the Government before it is officially legitimised does not cause any union to be disbanded because this has not happened. They are also fighting for the Government to amend the Act in order to prevent well-established unions from being dismantled.

Ms Martin said she could not say more about the BHMAWU or the non-unionised Sandals workers because the matter is before the courts.

She reflected on the major challenges that remain within the BHCAWU, including the image of the organisation, finances and asset base, service levels, internal conflicts and the application and interpretation of the union's industrial agreements.

In the meantime, within the union membership, a focus will be put on customer service training. Ms Martin lamented the country as a whole is in need of a "service culture reform".

"This is not only applicable to the Tourism Industry, but where ever service is rendered," she said.

"As a union we offer a service to our members and we intend to lead this process of service culture reform by example."