Mandatory Unions and Compulsory Arbitration

First Published: 2000-03-30

On March 17th the Chamber of Commerce and the Bahamas Employers Confederation held a half-day seminar for their members on the proposed FNM Labour Bill. The attendees expressed strong reservations about the Bill that were both easy to understand and long overdue. The management of labour is the most difficult task faced by business… specifically… dealing with work output, job skills and thievery. These frustrate efforts to raise productivity… an ever-pressing need in an increasingly competitive world. Those who do not recognize this are simply out of touch with reality.

Mandatory Staff and Worker Unions

For those concerned with the country-s welfare, the Bill and its replacements are scary stuff. It is the Government-s next step in implanting in the private sector the militant trade unionism that has flourished in the worker and managerial ranks of BaTelCo, Bahamasair and BEC (the “3B” unions). Such unions do not exist without Government intervention and support.

With the present Industrial Tribunal, this Bill… or its replacements… and several key rulings, an employer will not be able to stop the unionization of his managers or any part of his workforce.

  • He will not be able to challenge a union representation election, as is presently the case. Labour Minister Mr. Dion Foulkes intends to close a loophole that “allows employers to appeal the recognition of unions.”
  • Following a successful union recognition election in a bargaining unit, the negotiation of the initial contract may reach an impasse. Then the union can take the unresolved dispute to the Industrial Tribunal whose record on balance has been strongly anti-business. The Tribunal does not have… but now wants clear authority to write the first contract.

With these changes the Government will bring the “blessings” of “3B” unionism to Sun International, Cable Bahamas, City Markets, Marriott Crystal Palace… but more importantly… to every business whether Bahamian or foreign owned. The country can ill afford mandatory “3B” unionism.

Compulsory Arbitration

The Industrial Tribunal was created by the FNM to make the arbitration process compulsory and binding rather than voluntary and non-binding. As expected it created “grievance chaser” unionism and Industrial Tribunal Lotto. The proposed Labour Bill will further enhance this costly and divisive process.

The Bill will-

  1. Make both union and non-union employment contracts… whether written or oral… contestable before the Industrial Tribunal
  2. Give the worker the “right” not to be unfairly dismissed without confirming comparable employer “rights”
  3. Allow the Tribunal to make compensatory awards in addition to reimbursement for specific losses under employment contracts

So we have lawyers and union representatives chasing workers with imagined and real grievances, avoiding conciliation and hoping to win at Industrial Tribunal Lotto.

Observations

Mandatory “3B” managerial and worker unions and enhanced “grievance chasing” will escalate the costs of doing business in the Bahamas, reduce the rewards to entrepreneurial risk taking, blunt efforts to increase labour productivity, and ultimately kill economic growth and job creation itself.

The Bill has been around a long time… first drafted by the PLP, adopted by the FNM, reviewed by labour, business and government and revised. Yet it remains a fundamentally bad piece of legislation.

It is ironic and a shame that the business community has only recently recognized this fact and that the FNM retains it as a pillar of its pre-electoral political agenda. While it may be “good” politics, it is bad economics.

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