The “bulk” of the more than 30,000 employees who were unemployed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March have already returned to work, according to Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes.
“The Central Bank has indicated that they’re of the view — in March, April and May — at the initial beginning of the pandemic that because of all the layoffs, that the unemployment might have been 30,000 or 40,000 individuals,” Foulkes said during a press conference yesterday.
“But, the bulk of those employees were temporarily laid off. Most of them have gone back to work with the exception of the sectors that I have already mentioned.”
When asked about the national unemployment rate, he replied, “It would be very irresponsible to try to guesstimate what the unemployment rate is at this point.”
Foulkes added, “It is very difficult for us to place a figure on the unemployment rate in The Bahamas at this point. The Department of Statistics is charged with the responsibility to conduct surveys that are taken twice a year, which now has been suspended, so that the unemployment rate can be ascertained.”
In December 2019, the unemployment rate stood at 10.7 percent, according to the Department of Statistics.
As the tourism industry, and eventually, the country, came to a standstill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment numbers swiftly rose with widespread layoffs.
In early May, Director of Labour John Pinder and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis both projected unemployment would hit 30 percent.
The latest numbers from the National Insurance Board (NIB) indicated that more than 37,000 people were seeking unemployment benefits from the NIB and nearly 31,000 were seeking unemployment assistance from the government’s program.
The Bahamas’ workforce is comprised of 225,000 Bahamians, according to Foulkes.