11. Labor Policies and Practices
The Bahamian labor force is considered well-educated by international literacy and numeracy standards. According to the government’s December 2019 Labor Force Survey, the 2019 labor force was approximately 170,800 and the unemployment rate was 10.7 percent. Youth unemployment rates remain high at 24.6 percent (IMF). Wage rates are slightly lower than in the United States but higher than most countries in the region. The minimum wage for private sector employees is $5.25 per hour ($210 per week). There are significant numbers of foreign workers. The Bahamian government has approximately 40,000 registered work permit holders and the majority are designated as unskilled or semi-skilled. The majority of this group is comprised of Haitian nationals working in a range of services.
The Bahamian government has granted special permission to large-scale tourist developments to bring in foreign laborers to support construction activities. These numbers have ranged from a few hundred (The Pointe Development) to several thousand temporary workers during the construction of the Baha Mar resort. The concession for large groups of foreign workers was negotiated as part of the Heads of Agreement for the specific investment but generally, employment requires applications for individual work permits. The terms and conditions of work for foreign workers is subject to Bahamian law.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires at least one 24-hour rest period per week, paid annual vacations, and employer contributions to National Insurance (Social Security). The Act also requires overtime pay (time and a half) for hours in excess of 40 or on public holidays. A 1988 law provides for maternity leave and the right to re-employment after childbirth. The Minimum Labor Standards Act, including the Employment Act, Health and Safety at Work Act, Industrial Tribunal and Trade Disputes Act, and the Trade Union and Labor Relations Act were passed in 2001 and in early 2002. Foreign workers also have claim to social security benefits after five consecutive years of contributions.
Bahamian law also specifically grants labor unions the right to free assembly and association and to bargain collectively. The unions and associations exercise these rights extensively, particularly in state-owned industries, and although government officials have downplayed perceptions of strained labor relations, there has been growing industrial unrest throughout 2019 with formal protests by the Bahamas Public Services Union, the Union of Public Officers, the Nurses Union, the Doctors Union, the Consultant Physicians Staff Association, the Bahamas Educators and Managerial Union, Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union, the Union of Tertiary Educators, and the Union of Teachers.
In 2016, the government amended legislation to require employers to inform the Minister of Labor in instances where more than 10 persons were being laid off. The action came in response to a hotel chain using union-busting tactics to lay off the majority of its employees and hire non-union workers as contractors. In sectors where unions are active, the Industrial Relations Act governs the right to strike, which requires a simple majority of union members to vote in favor of a strike before it can commence. The Ministry of Labor oversees strike votes and manages overall industrial relations.
The Bahamas ratified most International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions and domestic law recognizes international labor rights. The Bahamian government lacks fiscal and human resources to adequately investigate occupational safety and health issues, but is taking steps to improve this. The country is committed to eliminating the worst forms of child labor, and the Ministry of Labor has periodically inspected food stores and other establishments to ensure the enforcement of laws governing child labor. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs