Population: 321,000
Capital: Nassau
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

An employer can call for a union's recognition to be withdrawn if negotiations on a collective agreement take more than a year to complete. Before unions can legally take strike action they must apply for permission to hold a strike ballot, and the Ministry of Labour can refuse to approve strike action. Casino workers were refused permission to join a union while employees of a major hotel chain were coerced into accepting management's choice of union.

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 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.

The right to collective bargaining is 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.

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

Failure to recognise unions or honour agreements: While unions do exercise their rights widely, there have been recent cases where the government or employers have refused to recognise unions. In addition, over the years the government has failed to honour industrial agreements. Trade unions believe some employers deliberately drag out negotiations for more than a year in order to apply for a union's recognition to be revoked.

The Trade Union Congress of the Bahamas reported in 2005 that it can take a year or even longer for a union to be granted recognition.

Violations in 2006

Casino workers barred from forming union: In March, Minister for Labour and Immigration, Shane Gibson prevented casino workers on Paradise Island forming a union, although they had fulfilled all the requirements, on the grounds that it was government policy not to allow casino workers to unionise.

The National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU) called on the government to abide by the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act and allow the Casino Workers Association to be recognised as a bargaining unit for the gaming industry workers. NCTU President Pat Bain said that the [Industrial Relations] Act allowed for any employee to become a member of a trade union.

Sandals workers forced to join union of employer's choice: The dispute at the Sandals resort which began in 2005 continued into 2006. In September when workers tried to form their own union: the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union, Sandal's General Manager Stephen Ziadie refused to recognise it, forcing them to join the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Worker's Union instead.

The leader of The Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union, Lynden Taylor said staff had previously refused to join the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Worker's Union (BHCAWU) because of allegations that the BHCAWU was selling out, explaining that: "We just didn't want to be a part of an organisation that is not going to defend the workers. That's why we decided to form our own union."

This 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.