Up to yesterday, the National Insurance Board (NIB) had received more than 1,000 applications for unemployment benefits from recently laid off hotel workers and is preparing to provide benefits for at least 18,000 people from the tourism sector that have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
NIB Director Dr. Nicola Virgil-Rolle reassured yesterday that the fund is able to sustain the level of drawdown expected with the high number of claims to be experienced in the coming weeks.
“The tourism sector, according to our numbers, is around 18,000 persons and so, we’re looking at a good percentage of those being laid off. These include independent persons as well who may not have been as seriously impacted and so, they may still be employed. But, our model, we have best case scenarios and worst case scenarios and so, we’re prepared for up to all of them to be laid off,” she told Guardian Business yesterday.
“The fund right now stands at $1.7 billion and we are carefully looking as we produce the number of actuarial models, to predict what would happen with a major reduction in the tourism sector. And so, we are, as a management team right now, ensuring that we have sufficient liquidity and are making changes to the liquidity strategy so, that we can ramp up to pay additional claims. But the fund is well-funded at this point.”
Over the weekend, five resorts announced their closures due to dwindling tourist bookings amid global travel warnings, which have crippled tourism industries around the world.
Those resorts alone – Atlantis, Baha Mar, Melia, Sandals and Resorts World Bimini – account for nearly 15,000 jobs in The Bahamas.
To deal with the unprecedented number of claims that will be filed in the coming weeks, Virgil-Rolle said NIB has had to shift its operations.
“We’re training all of our staff [from] other departments to work as claims intake officers to register the claims. We have been working closely with the hotels and the major employers in the tourism sector who are sending us their documents electronically, which is significantly helping with us not having to scan the documents. We can just upload them into our system,” she said.
“We’ve moved about 50 to 60 staff now to assist and they are being trained today and tomorrow to input the claim applications into our systems and we have also gotten assistance from the government in terms of additional offices we’ve requested, so that they can help adjudicate those claims as well.
“So, we’ve more than tripled the staff that is dealing with this, given the unprecedented nature of having such a large group of unemployed persons coming all at one time. But the operational model is flexible in order to allow us to change around staff if necessary and certainly we’ve had to not focus on some areas, but move toward the key area, which is now processing claims.”