With a “sharp” spike in unemployment expected, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said it is “unfortunate” that thousands of hotel workers will be laid off as a result of COVID-19 concerns in The Bahamas, noting that the government is working to process some unemployment benefits “very quickly”.
“It is very unfortunate that Bahamians are being made temporarily laid off,” Foulkes told The Nassau Guardian.
“We hope that we get over this extraordinary crisis that the nation and indeed the world is in, in a short period of time, so those workers can return back to work and provide for their families. The government has put in place several assistance programs through the social services and also the National Insurance Board as announced by the deputy prime minister in the House of Assembly on Wednesday past.
“We hope that those assistance would be of some benefit to the families and allow them to meet their basic needs and obligations. Also, I understand that some of the hotels, I don’t know how many, but I know that some of them have decided to pay a certain percentage of the basic wage during this period, which would also be of great assistance to the families.”
Over the weekend, several major resorts — Atlantis, Baha Mar, Melia Nassau Beach, Sandals and Resorts World Bimini — announced that they will temporarily suspend operations amid a worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
Atlantis is the largest private employer in the country.
Last week, Club Med Columbus Isle, which is located on San Salvador, announced it would also temporarily suspend operations until mid-April.
Club Med is one of the largest employers on the island.
Darrin Woods, president of the hotel union, said the closure would likely impact 130 to 150 employees.
Asked if he had any concerns about how that would affect Sal Salvadorians, Foulkes told The Guardian, “We are trying to ensure that we can process very quickly the unemployment benefits for all of the individuals that worked at Club Med so that the income can continue, so there won’t be a break in the income for those individuals.”
The minister continued, “And also, social services is also issuing vouchers for the provision of food. We are hopeful that the basic needs for the workers and families in San Salvador and throughout The Bahamas will continued to be met.”
The most recent unemployment figures, which were released by the Department of Statistics in August 2019, indicated the national unemployment rate had dropped to 9.5 percent, which was the lowest rate in 10 years.
However, on Thursday, Director of Labour John Pinder predicted that The Bahamas’ unemployment rate will increase to 25 percent as the COVID-19 global crisis escalates.
Foulkes agreed that there will undoubtedly be an increase in unemployment as a result of temporary layoffs and business closures.
“Well, you know, the unemployment rate, of course, will increase,” he said.
“I don’t know in terms of the percentages but there will be a sharp increase. There are those businesses that are closed because of the government order and there are also businesses that are closed because of the lack of economic activity.
“But we are very hopeful that when this passes, unemployment will pass and the economy will be fully restored and every Bahamian who has a job now will be able to return to work.”
He said that in “a couple weeks” NIB will provide figures for the number of people who have claimed unemployment benefits.