It has been a very difficult couple of years for many workers in The Bahamas.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, thousands were furloughed or lost their jobs outright.
We recall the chilling tone with which then-Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar announced that there will be no tourists.
The borders were closed. Cruise ships stopped sailing. Traffic on Bay Street and in tourist hot spots across the country quickly dried up. The iconic straw market was shuttered as were hotel properties throughout The Bahamas
Those were dark and scary times.
Many faced the toughest economic period they had ever seen. Many, for the first time, had to depend on various public and private social assistance programs to take care of themselves and their families. If they were lucky enough to have rainy-day savings, many quickly saw those depleted.
What initially felt like it would be a few weeks’ disruption dragged on month after month with no apparent end in sight.
Added to the economic woes many Bahamian families experienced, were the health concerns associated with the pandemic. Many lost loved ones. Many, themselves, became victims of COVID and suffered through the experience, some more so than ones.
On top of all of that, many workers struggled to maintain stability for their children who spent protracted periods engaged in virtual learning, which proved tremendously challenging for students, parents and caregivers.
It was the most stressful of times for many. A challenge that has not been assessed and is barely spoken about is the mental health impact of the pandemic.
While COVID-19 continues to create problems and disruptions for some Bahamian families, the economy, thankfully, has largely reopened and thousands of people are back to work.
The Central Bank revealed this week that up to April, The Bahamas had welcomed more than 1.3 million tourists through its major ports, a 93 percent reversal from the contraction in visitor numbers recorded during the same period in 2021.
That’s good news for workers who earn their living directly and indirectly from tourism.
While the unemployment rate is anticipated to remain above pre-pandemic levels, according to the Central Bank, risks persist as new strains of the coronavirus emerge, which could potentially stall progress made on the international health front and dampen the travel industry prospects.
In addition, elevated international fuel costs could weaken the travel sector’s competitiveness, the bank stated.
It is against this backdrop of lingering uncertainty and ongoing challenges that Labour Day 2022 will be observed tomorrow.
While the holiday will meet many Bahamian workers in a better position than they were in during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as many have their jobs back, the global inflation crisis is creating another round of untold economic pressures, while many salaries remain stagnant.
The government has responded by promising a minimum wage increase — though many won’t be impacted by that and those who are will likely only see a negligible improvement in their spending power. The prime minister last week also announced that most public servants will receive a salary increase in the coming fiscal year.
While the umbrella unions intend to march along the same route tomorrow, the trade union movement is largely fractured with a third congress announced just this week.
Unions are divided on whether the Davis administration has been good for workers. The government insists it is meeting commitments made in a memorandum of understanding entered into with umbrella unions prior to the last general election, though several major unions said they were not a party to it.
Despite the many persistent challenges, workers will for the first time since 2019 be able to celebrate Labour Day unencumbered by COVID-19 restrictions.
Some will have to work tomorrow to keep critical services functioning and the tourism and other industries going. But it will be for many a day of fun and well-deserved rest.
Workers are the backbone of any economy. They deserve to celebrate — and to be celebrated.
Happy Labour Day!