NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government’s position on National Insurance Board (NIB) payments is that any employee receiving ex gratia payments from their employer will only receive unemployment benefits to make up a minimum of $100 in income support, according to a Ministry of Finance statement issued last night.
The statement comes as numerous Baha Mar employees claimed they have not received NIB unemployment benefits in a number of weeks.
“The Ministry of Finance would like to bring clarity to public discourse around payments to the government extended unemployment benefit programme based on inaccurate suggestions that payments have been unfairly held up to certain individuals,” the statement read.
It added, “With limited available resources, the government took the policy position that persons in the special unemployment benefit programme would receive income or income support of no less than $100 per week.
“The difference in this iteration is that persons who work part-time, or who receive ex gratia or other payments from the employer would only receive payments from the programme to bring them up to a minimum of $100 in income and or income support. This approach was taken to ensure that in an environment of scarce public resources, as many people as possible would obtain some measure of assistance.”
Baha Mar President Graeme Davis, while appearing as a guest on ILTV’s Beyond The Headlines with host Clint Watson on Tuesday night, urged the government to do its part and “act fairly” toward the resort’s employees.
He also said he would like Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to intervene on the matter.
“What they are trying to do now is not give the NIB benefit to our associates by deducting what we’re giving to them in ex gratia and I believe it’s unfair,” Davis said.
Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Obie Ferguson added his voice to the subject yesterday, telling Eyewitness News he believes “there is no logical reason” why NIB should not make the payment.
But the Ministry of Finance, in its statement, noted, “The government has provided some $90 million in direct cash assistance and income replacement to nearly 38,000 unemployed Bahamians since March. These funds have been administered by the National Insurance Board on behalf of the government to eligible individuals.
“This $90 million sum does not include monies paid out by NIB as part of its 13-week earned unemployed benefits that is funded through employer and employee contributions to NIB. While there are some unemployed workers who were not able to access the government- subsidized programme, the government has taken a comprehensive approach to COVID-19 assistance, including feeding programs, rent assistance and other forms of social support.
“The government remains exceedingly grateful to all those employers throughout the country who have provided ex gratia payments to employees during this time, as well as those many employers who have had employees on full-time or part-time schedules throughout the pandemic even as the businesses themselves faced extreme commercial challenges.”
The ministry’s statement also read: “As the Prime Minister announced this past Sunday, the programme has since been extended through the end of January 2021.
“To verify the amounts due to employees under this revised approach, the government has normally required that employers submit relevant information to the NIB. The NIB would have only withheld payments until such information is provided by the employers.
“The NIB has advised the government that the last major employer submitted their listing of eligible employees yesterday evening (Tuesday, December 8, 2020). This will allow for relevant payments to be made to those employees who qualify under the most recent terms mentioned [in the statement].”
The ministry also provided an overview of the government extended unemployment benefit programme “to rest all doubt”, stating that: NIB has paid out $97.5 million in unemployment benefits since March; the government has introduced a special unemployment programme to assist those who would not normally qualify for NIB payments; and the “special unemployment benefit programme” was extended beyond the 13-week period that NIB payments cover, with adjustment to “the weekly amount and the criteria to qualify”.
The extensions in particular, the ministry said, were undertaken “notwithstanding the fact that the budget for this unemployment assistance had been largely exhausted and the government’s revenue continued to be very constrained”.
“The special unemployment benefit programme has been administered by NIB but funded by the government from budgeted funds approved by Parliament during the recent budget exercise,” the statement read.
“As at the end of November, some 36,959 persons have benefited from the special unemployment benefit programme in the aggregate sum of just over $91.9 million, going back to when it commenced last fiscal year.”