The New Labour Bill – "Revolution" or Devolution?

First Published: 2000-02-14

At a recent meeting with union members the Hon. Dion A. Foulkes, Minister of Labour promises wide consultation on the proposed Minimum Standards and Conditions Act, 2000 (MSCA). Could these promises have any connection with getting votes in the next election? What are the consequences when business is obliged to change to fulfil some idealistic vision of a politician? The real world of business is competition and cooperation. Is Minister Foulkes promising something different?

If 25 to 30 percent of The Bahamas workforce is unionised, that leaves a non-unionised labour force of 70 – 75%. What is the source of labour unrest that so exercises the Minister? By all indications it is the 25 – 30 % of unionised workers the major proportion of which are employed by the government.

In public discussion the Minister states that to have a peaceful labour market, employers need regulating, and it is his determination to change their way of doing business to suit his ideal and perhaps that of the agitators.

It is important to note that it is the government employees that are the lawbreakers. Furthermore their threats of violence and disruption are rewarded with severance payments beyond anything that private business could afford. This is not an option for the private sector, they have to bail themselves out or go out of business altogether. Government goes to the public treasury and uses taxpayer money.

Rewarding the disruption and violence of the government unions simply buys more of it. Minister Foulkes might well ask himself how much of this can the country afford, particularly when his labour legislation ties the hands of the businessman – the ones who are making a peaceful contribution to the country-s prosperity.

The threat of Labour Legislation in various forms has been held over the heads of Bahamian business for the past 10 years or more. It was initiated by the PLP having derived from the militant policies of the Socialist Labour governments of Great Britain. The militant unions in that country inflicted serious damage to the British economy. The Minister need only look at that period of British history to see what happened to economic growth and incomes.

It is time to cease and desist from this sort of intimidation of the community that is the creator of the wealth of the country. Government ought to clean up its own backyard and leave the businessman alone.

For the first time in 20 years the Bahamas is experiencing real growth. Wages have risen to unprecedented levels as a consequence of labour demand created by large amounts of foreign capital invested in tourism and the financial services sector. This is directly related to confidence generated by a change in government, privatisation of the government hotels and a perception of a government friendly to business.

Governments need to do something to satisfy a few sends a disquieting message to local and foreign businessmen. It is the message of the socialist central planner that caused serious hardship elsewhere and will do the same to this country. It is unlikely that the business community can tolerate these controls in the competitive world of the new century. The outcomes are predictable.

It is most remarkable that the Minister is motivated to change the winning strategy for the sake of those that threaten the peace.

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