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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahamas

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahamas, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52caa7c.html [accessed 20 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 320,000
Capital: Nassau
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Although the law recognises freedom of association, trade unions are sometimes not recognised. Threats, intimidation and dismissals are the main strategies used against the unions. Collective bargaining is deliberately delayed by employers with a view to obtaining the authorities' derecognising of a union in charge of bargaining.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of Association: Private sector and most public sector workers may form or join unions. Members of the prison service, the police, the armed forces and the fire brigade are not covered by Labour Relations Act and therefore do not have the right to organise. The Registrar has discretionary powers to reject a union's request for registration, which the ILO considers tantamount to prior authorisation and therefore against the principles of freedom of association. The ILO has furthermore asked the government to alter to law to remove the stipulation that the Registrar or designated officer must supervise the secret ballot to elect or remove trade union officers or amend a union constitution.

Right to collective bargaining recognised in law: To be recognised as a bargaining agent, a union must represent 50 per cent plus one of employees. If an employer fails to reach agreement with a union after 12 months, the employer can apply to have the union's recognition revoked.

Right to strike – strong limitations: The Industrial Relations Act requires a simple majority of a union's membership to vote in favour of a strike motion. The Ministry of Labour must approve a strike ballot, which in the case of the public sector is contrary to the principles of freedom of association, given the government's role as employer. Furthermore, section 75 of the Act restricts the objective of a strike and appears to prohibit protest and sympathy strikes. If strikes are organised in violation of section 75, excessive sanctions, including imprisonment for up to two years are foreseen. The government has the right to intervene in strikes to ensure the delivery of basic services and so uphold the "national interest".

Export processing zone: There is one free trade zone in the Bahamas, Freeport, which is governed by the same laws as the rest of the country.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: On 2 May free and relatively peaceful elections were held and were won by the Free National Movement (FNM). That said, in the run-up to the elections there had been violent clashes between political groups. During the year there were protests against police abuse of their authority, which included the assassination of a number of people in Nassau and the islands of Andros and Bimini. Approximately 180 official complaints were lodged concerning police violations.

No progress on union organising: 25 percent of the country's workforce are union members, but the right to join a union is only enjoyed by those sectors in which it is not explicitly banned. Although those unions that are recognised basically manage to exercise their rights, in recent years there have been cases of the government or employers refusing to recognise trade unions.

Dismissal, harassment and threats are common anti-union practices: Dismissals for union activities do occur, however in some cases the workers have managed to obtain reinstatement following legal proceedings, since the law explicitly bans anti-union discrimination. Harassment and threatening of trade union leaders are commonly used as a ploy for toppling the unions,

Collective bargaining deliberately delayed: In some workplaces employers deliberately delay collective bargaining with the union for over one year before making use of available legislation to request that the union's recognition be revoked.

Government intervenes and ends strikes: The right to strike is not exercised freely, since the government sometimes intervenes to stop a strike and has a legal right to do so.

Taino Beach Resort sacks workers to weaken the union: In early October, 11 employees of the cleaning department at the Taino Beach Resort hotel were sacked. They had been subcontracted by Bakan Cleaning Service Company Limited and were members of the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU). That union had complained that the women workers had been threatened by hotel managers for several weeks to get them to leave the union. The management claimed that the dismissals were due to a slump in the hotel's business. However, the sackings came a few days after the Ministry of Labour recognised the BHCAWU as the collective bargaining agent for negotiating an agreement that would cover the cleaning department. In early October the workers filed legal proceedings for reinstatement to their posts and obtained an agreement with the hotel and the sub-contracting firm that they would reinstate the workers and negotiate a collective agreement, however by the end of the year the agreement had not been honoured and the women had not got their jobs back.

Threats and restrictions on the work of a union leader at First Caribbean Bank: In August, members of the bank's management threatened Ms Theresa Mortimer, President of the Bahamas Financial Services Union, via a letter banning her from entering the bank to carry out union activities unless she had received prior authorisation to do so from the management; if she ignored the ban additional, stronger measures would be taken. The bank's administration justified these restrictions on Ms Mortimer on the grounds that the union's work was against the policies of the bank. The letter was received by Ms Mortimer as she was organising some protests and a strike by 300 of the bank's employees aimed at improving the unhealthy working conditions of the workers handling night deposits. The union reported that this was not the first warning that Ms Mortimer had received. At the end of the year the dispute was not over and Ms Mortimer was still facing the restrictions imposed by the bank.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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