Playing Politics With the Bahamian Workforce Hurts Us All

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A letter to Da Editor

Dear Editor,

Bahamians were no doubt shocked to hear Prime Minister Perry Christie last week say the Sandals Resort at Emerald Bay in Exuma was in danger of closing its doors. This came as stunning news to the average Bahamian, who before now, was not given reason by the Bahamas Government to fear such a thing with Emerald Bay, the lifeline of employment on the island of Exuma, employing hundreds of Bahamians.

Sharon Turner

At a function in the nation’s capital last week, Mr. Christie said: “Today in Exuma we have challenges of a place like Sandals where the developer Butch Stewart has put an incredible amount of money into it and developed an incredibly beautiful product, but it is fighting to try to stop from losing an enormous amount of money and could close [the hotel] and we have to try and see what model can work.”

And this is what brings me to the central point of this piece: governments while in Opposition, need to count the cost of the things they say and do, and the elements of our society they use as political pawns to gain votes, because once they get into office, the consequences of what they do are no longer campaign talking points, but are real-life situations for real-life Bahamians and in this instance, the companies that employ them.

During the 2012 general election campaign, you may recall that the then Opposition Party used Sandals Exuma as a whipping boy of sorts in its attempt to woo voters on that island. At that time, the then Opposition accused Sandals Exuma of not paying its staff enough money, and of being an employer that was not union friendly.

Apparently, the campaign strategy seemed to be that if Sandals was such a bad employer for Exuma, and Sandals enjoyed the support of the then government (which of course it should have), then voters should not support the government that supports their unjust employer.

Whether that strategy helped garner votes the then Opposition would not have otherwise gotten is for its surrogates and analysts to determine, but having sparked then stirred dissent among the workers at the resort, the now governing party has to deal with having created problems for what the Prime Minister now says is a critical, capital-intensive resort property that his government must work to help keep open.

Well, the Sandals Resort was a critical, capital-intensive resort property during the election campaign. It was a vital employer of hundreds of Bahamians in Exuma during the election campaign. But at that time, with all its importance, it instead became a seemingly ripe and convenient target in the battle to woo votes.

Now, the resort needs the government’s support or it may close, putting hundreds of Bahamians in Exuma out of work. What the then Opposition Party encouraged workers to demand of the hotel during the election campaign, the resort simply cannot provide during the continued slow global economic recovery. It also cannot give in to such demands since, according to the Prime Minister and media reports quoting its developers, the property has yet to turn a profit.

This is why politicians should not do while in Opposition what they will not be able to live with when they become the government.

You see, the Prime Minister’s Party, which is now the governing party of The Bahamas, worked well in emboldening employees throughout both the public and private sector, and in some cases, encouraged labour disputes while in Opposition.

And now that their Party is in office, many workers in The Bahamas have taken that liberty to new heights, with the result being new lows in the quality of service government workers in particular, are giving to the public they are paid to serve.

Why? Because now, many supporters of the current administration have a “my Party is in, you can’t touch me, we run things” attitude. Being an ardent supporter of a political party in and of itself is perfectly fine, so long as it does not interfere with one’s job performance. But in many areas it has done just that. Workers are behaving as though their support for the governing Party should translate into them doing whatever they want to on the job – and this includes doing nothing at all – and that no one should dare say a word to them about it because they will be “dealt with” if they do.

Enter here the sign “Not Good for Business”. We already have well known and significant challenges with respect to the workforce in this country. We certainly don’t need to compound that by a sector of the workforce, both public and private, who now feel they have the full support of their government to do the very opposite of what they are being paid to do.

Yes, we have Bahamian employees who are lazy and rude no matter which Party they support – there is no disputing that. But we also now have Bahamians whose attitudes rooted in their politics, can only help to further weaken our national workforce. An economy cannot be strong if its workforce is weak.

While our Prime Minister and his government seek to find ways to provide the necessary support to keep the doors of Sandals Emerald Bay open, they also need to look at the bigger picture, and where relevant, do what responsible governments must do.

And what a responsible government in our country must do, is first acknowledge where its own actions in the pursuit of successful electioneering have helped to foster a counterproductive sense of entitlement in workers in the country, and then tackle that destructive sense of entitlement, before it tackles us all.

Sharon Turner