“It’s been almost two years I’ve not been working; no one really knows the struggle”
Union pres hopeful more employees will be called back to work heading into Thanksgiving
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Atlantis employees who have been furloughed for nearly two years say they feel as if they have been “left in limbo” as they struggle to survive amid mounting bills and expenses.
One furloughed worker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Eyewitness News: “It has been almost two years since we have been left in limbo with no resolve. My bills are backed up and I need financial help.
“The resort has been open from around January and it’s now September, yet the resort still won’t pay us out.”
The employee added: “We are prisoners, and the resort is taking full advantage of us and the use of the emergency order that is protecting them.
“I can understand the COVID crisis caused business to cease, and even though our labor laws have outlined that after three months, the employer has to pay us out, I recognized that this crisis was abnormal…
“I could live with the first six months being pardoned because of COVID, but it’s almost two years now.
“The resort is open and they are making money. The hotel representative has even gone as far as bragging about how full the hotel has been. While myself and many other Bahamians sit and wait.
“I am at the mercy of my landlord; on any given day he can tell me to go. How is that fair? I could lose everything.”
The employee noted that “many who are still furloughed are entitled to a payout that could help us start a new career or open a business”.
Another furloughed employee said: “We didn’t mind being furloughed early on because we didn’t know much about the COVID virus at the time and we were also getting paid at that time.
“Then the hotel stopped paying and it was just National Insurance. After every extension to those payments, the amount went down and now it’s just $100.
“We can’t get vacation pay, which is our entitlement, so I don’t know what’s going on with that.
“I heard them saying that business had picked up but I’m still home and haven’t gotten a red cent since the first two months of 2020.
“It’s real hard out here. We have bills to pay, mortgages to pay and kids to take care of. That Employment Act provision really disenfranchised a lot of persons. It’s been almost two years I’ve not been working. No one really knows the struggle.”
Emergency orders “the big elephant in the room”
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.
As a result of the COVID-19 emergency orders enacted last year, redundancy provisions requiring local businesses to pay full severance to furloughed workers has been suspended.
While Atlantis executives did not respond to queries up to the time this article was published, the resort’s President and Managing Director Audrey Oswell said in a previous interview near the end of June, during the summer uptick, that the resort had been reengaging many of its employees who have been on furlough as a result of the pandemic, with over 3,000 members back to work at that time. The resort reportedly employs some 7,500 persons.
Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) President Darrin Woods said in a recent interview that the tourism sector is now in the traditionally slow period, although he is “cautiously optimistic” that more workers will be reengaged later in the fall.
Woods told Eyewitness News: “I am cautiously optimistic about it. The big elephant in the room of course is the emergency orders, which says that employers had to bring a furlough back to work or make a decision.
“If that happens in this climate, we know there is not sufficient room visitors arrivals at this time, which is traditionally slow.
“We have to see how this whole emergency orders situation pans out after election. The state of emergency is supposed to be in place until November.”
Woods added: “We are hopeful that we are able to maintain the numbers we have working at this time and get more persons back to work. We found persons are being rotated and so some more hotel workers have gone back to work.
“We just to have to look at the numbers and see how the numbers trend. We know that we won’t see anything major until late October, early November and into Thanksgiving when things pick up.”