Unions & Racism

First Published: 2005-03-25

During February 2005 The Nassau Institute conducted a survey regarding racism in The Bahamas. There were numerous thoughtful responses that indicated racism was all but dead and our report was published. Fast-forwarding to March 11, 2005 the picture is somewhat different, and here's why.

The Nassau Yacht Club (NYC) has been operating within the terms of an expired union contract since December 31, 2003 which survived under an evergreen clause until December 31, 2004. Both sides agreed to start negotiations during the first quarter of 2004 in an attempt to hammer out a new agreement. These negotiations reportedly ended on Thursday, March 10, 2005 when the union did not agree to either of the three counter proposals made by the NYC. The staff was terminated with immediate effect on Friday, March 11, 2005, because, it is understood, the union did not respond to the Department of Labour by Thursday, March 10, 2005 at the agreed time of 3:00pm. And reports are that the union is yet to officially respond. Click here for the Nassau Yacht Club press release.

The events that have unfolded since are cause for alarm.

As pointed out in previous discussions, there appears to be a set of rules for business and another for unions and their members. The law clearly defines the process by which an employee can be terminated as it outlines how a union and its members can picket. Blocking private driveways and shouting racial slurs and threats of bodily harm and intimidation are expressly against the law, however, these are practices that have now been perfected by unions.

What is even more disconcerting is the fact that the Police do not issue violations to the union or their members for such behaviour.

On the evening of Friday, March 11, 2005 the union and their members locked the gates of the NYC locking the members of the private club into the parking lot. When members of the NYC took photographs there were threats of bodily harm and illegal trespassing onto the property of the NYC. The union members then chose to block the driveway of this private property with their vehicles.

Similar circumstances took place on the evening of March 12, 2005 as well and the Police did not issue citations for this behaviour.

While union members have the legal right to picket, there are numerous examples in this particular case that indicate the union is encouraging or allowing their members to knowingly break the law.

There is a sense in the community that the government is only interested in enforcing the law as it relates to the business community and individuals while ignoring the unions lack of accountability to its own members and their willingness to break the law with impunity. What is patently clear is that the union movement is outmoded and serves the interest of its leaders rather than its membership. The Ingraham administration passed a compendium of labour legislation that is a virtual union agreement. Unfortunately the two pieces of legislation that would have made unions more responsible and accountable were never debated by parliament to pass them into law. Some believe this was done because the government of the day was angry that the business community had made its position known to the public. Perhaps one day an administration will do the right thing and implement laws to keep unions under control.

So it appears there are two cultures in The Bahamas. One culture is exhibited in the business world where respect for each other is generally the order of the day. Then there is the sub-culture that appears to be encouraged by the union movement with the behaviour of their "friends".

In summary, Martin Luther King Jr. would be embarrassed if he knew what was being perpetrated when some people invoke his name, as racism does exist in The Bahamas and all its ugliness can be found within, and appears to be perpetuated by a sub-culture within the union movement.

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