Hutchison layoffs to have ‘big impact’ in GB
Business leaders are expressing concern over the dozens of layoffs at Hutchison Port Holdings and insisting that changes must be made to keep Bahamians employed on the struggling island.
Meanwhile, news of Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) closing up shop in Grand Bahama and moving to Panama has further heightened the need for reforms.
John Swain, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce for Grand Bahama, said the 70 Bahamians now out of work will have a “big impact” on the community.
“It’s a large number and it should have a big impact. That’s 70 families and it’s a huge loss,” he told Guardian Business. “Jobs are so limited at this time. We have to look at the situation and find a solution. We have the capacity to do significant business and nobody was looking for this to happen.”
Looking at the Grand Bahama economy as a whole, the major employers are the industrial sector and container companies. The tourism industry has fallen off, he said, so it will be difficult for these Bahamians to find work elsewhere.
“They don’t really exist anywhere – that’s the bottom line,” he added.
“We’re not generating employment and new jobs fast enough in this economy.”
Hutchison Port Holdings did not return messages before press time.
Guardian Business understands many of the layoffs came from middle management. Among the reasons for the cuts is the loss of MSC to Panama and the struggling Grand Lucaya Beach Resort, which is considered part of the Hutchison Group.
Consul General for Panama in The Bahamas, David
Grath, told Guardian Business that the shift for MSC is indicative of the robust economy and its efforts to improve the ease of doing business.
Panama has taken pains, he explained, to make it easier to secure work permits, attract foreign investment and expand the capacity of the Panama Canal.
“The registry port is far larger and many ships go through there. It’s also cheaper to register a ship there,” he said.
Panama also has a thriving Free Zone that attracts a wide variety of business and investment, he pointed out.
Winston Rolle, the chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), told Guardian Business a delegation to Panama will indeed take place in the second quarter of 2012.
“I think a lot of this has to do with Panama’s expansion, and from what I have seen in my travels around the region, their economy is growing at a significant rate,” he said. “They are growing at around seven percent each year, which is phenomenal at this time. We must reexamine how we attract persons to come and want to do business in The Bahamas.”
The BCCEC delegation, he added, will tour the Panama Canal and Free Zone and meet key players in the industry.
Acknowledging that The Bahamas “still has many advantages”, he nevertheless felt the layoffs are a wake up call.
Rolle felt price competitiveness was only one factor attracting business elsewhere. He said new methods in terms of public education, reducing bureaucracy and seeking diversification in foreign investment are all elements The Bahamas should consider.
He expressed hope that progress will be made through the delegation to Panama next year.
“Those are the things we need to be looking at and we need to develop a plan,” he said. “We can’t continue to focus just on the hospitality environment. Not anymore.”
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