An Endangered Species: The Bahamian Entrepreneur

First Published: 2000-04-16

A Bahamian entrepreneur… who considers the proposed Trade Union and Labour Relations Act and the Industrial Tribunal and Trade Disputes Act dated April 2000… can quickly conclude that the Government is stacking the cards against him.

He will realize that this legislation will implant militant and divisive trade unionism in his enterprise. The Trade Union Act, for instance, states that a union will represent his managers or workers if 40% of those in the defined bargaining unit vote “Yes” in a union representation election. The hurdle is now 40%… not the previous 50%… the percent most common elsewhere in the world. The majority no longer rules.

Furthermore –

  • If he does not supply the names and capacities of all workers in the bargaining unit to the Minister of Labour within fourteen days, he is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and $1,000 per day for failure to comply.
  • Then, if he does not enter into contract negotiations in good faith within two months, he can be fined $50,000.
  • The Industrial Tribunal could award him damages up to $500,000 if in this process the Tribunal finds that the union initiated an “industrial action”. However, the union can avoid any liability by “repudiating” the action.
  • And if he appeals the results of the representation election, he must still enter contract negotiations during the appeal process. In this case he may be fined $50,000 for failure to do so.

During the contract negotiations, he must give the union negotiators information about his company that they need for unimpeded negotiations. The second act instructs the Tribunal to consider in its awards the need “to assure employees a fair share of any increases in productivity.” This substantiates a union need for information that goes well beyond the last annual balance sheet, income statement and the wages and fringe benefits paid. This disclosure requirement is new and opens a Pandora-s box of uncertainty. What information will now satisfy the “unimpeded negotiation” and “fair share of productivity” tests? Not mentioned at all is the free market test… the wage that is sufficient to induce an employee to stay with the company.

In being competitive in the market place and earning a profit, a successful entrepreneur must have managers and workers who are honest, hard working and productive. In this community these individuals are often relatives, distant relatives and friends… or relatives and friends of key employees. Support of the legitimate concerns of these employees is in an employer-s self-interest and is good labour relations. In almost all situations the majority of such individuals do not want to be in a union.

  • Yet this law allows a 40% minority to initiate the unionization process.
  • Even though the 60% majority may never join the union, union dues will be automatically deducted from their pay without their consent. In reality this is legalized thievery by the Government for the benefit of the union.
  • The majority may eventually nullify the automatic deduction; however, this Act makes the nullification process more difficult.

And if the Bahamian entrepreneur read the January 2000 draft of the Minimum Standards Act, he would remember the “national labour contract”… the set of standards that overrides any past or future private agreement. He won-t forget the provisions for the unlimited delegation of power to the Ministry of Labour… a non-elected official… as well as unfair dismissal, health and safety, two new armies of inspectors and the power to penalize for non-compliance.

It is no wonder that the Bahamian entrepreneur feels like an endangered species to be devoured by union organizers, a minority of his workers, aggressive lawyers and ambitious bureaucrats and politicians.

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