Self-employed tourism industry workers won’t be able to apply for government’s unemployment assistance until March 28, the National Insurance Board (NIB) has confirmed.
Pandora Butler, who is the chief manager in the office of the director, said because self-employed workers cannot benefit from the unemployment benefit, NIB has had to formulate brand new rules to govern that category of workers.
“We’re still in the process of formulating what those rules will be and we will advise persons,” she said.
“We’ve set the 28th of this month as our start of accepting claims and accepting applications. That’s not tied to the conditions of national insurance. I want to say this to everyone who is a potential claimant for that, do not go to the Department of Labour.
“Labor is also not a part of that program. Wait. Listen to the radio. Listen to the media, go on our Facebook page [or] go on our website. We will give you further directions in advance of the 28th so you know what you need to do, where you need to go and what you need as supporting documentation.”
Those rules that are being worked on would clarify and stipulate what kind of self-employed workers in the tourism industry would be eligible for the special assistance.
The government announced last week that it was providing $20 million for this category of workers who may be adversely impacted by the virtual closure of the country’s tourism sector due to the global spread of COVID-19.
As for the thousands of Bahamians employed by hotels and other tourist providers who have already been laid off, Butler said those people can apply now for the unemployment benefit.
“Our definition of unemployed is not just that you got fired, terminated, let go or made redundant, it’s also if you have cessation of work,” she said.
“And it says specifically if your employer has no work for you in that week then you are deemed to be laid off and you are deemed to be unemployed. Some people are laid off with pay.
“Then there are persons who are paid but are forced to take vacation. If you are paid then that is a paid leave and there’s no unemployment for that.”
The Ministry of Finance yesterday released a notice advising individuals and businesses affected by temporary job loss due to COVID-19 to refrain from visiting the offices of the Ministry of Social Services, NIB and the Small Business Development Center – which are facilitating the assistance for government.
Instead, the release said, “…Self-employed tourism workers are advised to apply to the National Insurance Board for an unemployment benefit by downloading the application form online and emailing it to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; tourism workers who have been placed on short work weeks are advised to submit email requests for social assistance to the Ministry of Social Services at firstname.lastname@example.org; and all other NIB registrants eligible for sick benefits or unemployment benefits should also download forms on the NIB website and email to email@example.com.”
Butler said NIB is also urging Bahamians that will need assistance from the board in the coming weeks to get a bank account to reduce the risk of contracting the viral disease.
“We encourage persons to get bank accounts,” Butler said.
“The majority of persons get their pensions in particular through bank accounts, but we want to encourage the thousand or so persons who still collect checks to open bank accounts and give us those account numbers because we want to protect our elderly because they’re vulnerable, they’re at risk. So, we don’t want them coming out.”
As for those pensioners, Butler said payments that were due on March 24 were paid on Friday and NIB is working toward having the April and May pension payments distributed by the end of this month.