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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahamas

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahamas, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cb032b.html [accessed 23 August 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 union rights, especially the right to strike, remain limited. There were massive layoffs in the hotel sector including eight trade union executive members.

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 the 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 equivalent to prior authorisation and therefore against the principles of freedom of association. The ILO has furthermore asked the government 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% 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 2008

Background: No major political changes arose in the Bahamas since Hubert Ingraham's opposition Free National Movement (FNM) won parliamentary elections in May 2007. As a consequence of the downturn in the global economy, there have been massive layoffs in the hotel sector with more than 1,000 jobs being cut. The trade union organisations asked for the set up of redundancy funds for workers.

No progress on union organising: 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: 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.

Trade union executive members laid off in the hotel sector: At the end of the year, 150 workers including eight trade union executive members were laid off at Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort. The laid-off workers include the president, vice president, secretary general, assistant secretary general, treasurer and trustees of the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU). Two unions, the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union and BHMAWU, are recognised as the bargaining agent for Sandals workers. A case involving the unions was before the Court of Appeal at the end of the year. Until then, the BHMAWU has been prevented from representing its members. Following a two-year-long legal battle, hundreds of resort employees were scheduled to take part in a poll in mid-October to determine whether they wanted the BHMAWU or the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union to represent them. The poll was delayed.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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