D’Aguilar says govt. focus is on Atlantis reopening and getting employees back to work
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamas Hotel Catering & Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) president Darrin Woods said yesterday that the union would not be pushing for redundancies on behalf of furloughed Atlantis employees, this as scores of the resort’s workers gathered in protest to demand their severance pay.
Woods told Eyewitness News: “We have a provision in our agreement that allows for persons to be made redundant.
“That’s their right. We aren’t going to advance redundancies on behalf of people because we know that for hospitality workers, their salaries are so low, once they get that lump sum, then what?
Reforms to the Employment Act in 2017 mandate that once workers have been sent home for a 13-week period or 90-day period, an employer has to either to recall them to work or terminate them with full compensation as required by law.
Woods noted that as a result of the emergency orders redundancy provisions requiring local businesses to pay full severance to furloughed workers has been suspended, until the end of November.
Woods said that the union has not been in concert with the government on the move.
“The union has had no discussion with the government on that,” he said.
“We are still waiting on a meeting with the government to discuss COVID-19 and its effects on tourism. We want to see exactly what the plans are for the reopening of the industry as a whole.
“We want to see a workable plan for people to get back to work. It’s a difficult situation.
“We understand the frustration but at the end of the day, what do you do? We have not seen the real fall-out from this pandemic.
“Will people be prepared to travel? We still don’t know when all is said and done what kind of numbers we will see in terms of reopening the tourism sector.”
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday also acknowledged that the issue of redundancy was a difficult one.
He told Eyewitness News: “Obviously it’s a very difficult situation. You have a hotel that has now been closed since March.
“All businesses that have been closed this long have been facing economic hardship and cash flow problems.
“While I understand the employees are concerned and that this is a vexing situation, a number of businesses have been saying to us if we have to pay this demand we will go bankrupt.
“It is very difficult to determine what to do.”
He added: “I really want Atlantis to reopen, for people to get back to work and the business can pay. That is what I have been focusing on.
“Atlantis has indicated they are very interested in considering an opening in the very short term. To me, that [is] the best goal to get tourism ramped up and people back to work. If you get your severance, there is a finality in that. When that money runs out, then what? While people may be considering the short term gain I’m looking long term.”
Senator Fred Mitchell, Opposition spokesman on Labor said in a brief statement yesterday that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) supports the just demands of the Atlantis workers for their redundancy pay.
“The PLP left in place a law to protect workers from being laid off endlessly,” he said.
“The FNM changed the law using their emergency powers. This has worked an injustice on the workers at Atlantis.
“The government ought to intervene to ensure that the workers get their money.”
Atlantis’ president and managing director Audrey Oswell said in a letter to employees last week that the resort still does not have a firm reopening date.
Oswell said the resort had secured additional funds to help ensure the long-term financial stability of the company, adding the funds will allow the resort to provide partial vacation payments to furloughed employees.
Oswell also acknowledged calls for redundancies and said the resort has thoroughly reviewed and considered a scenario where certain roles are eliminated as it waited out the reopening of the resort.