Some Atlantis workers demand severance pay

Scores of furloughed and frustrated Atlantis employees packed Global Ministries Bahamas on Pinedale Street yesterday demanding that the Paradise Island resort formally release them and pay them severance.

Atlantis temporarily laid off staff on March 21, for what was initially planned to be a period of four weeks and assured the employees of its commitment to support them during the period of uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the resort’s closure has dragged on indefinitely as a result of an explosion in COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas and in key tourist markets.

Workers say they have had enough of waiting. 

“I am ready to close this chapter,” said Lavette Francis, who worked for Atlantis for 15 years.

“This chapter just needs to be closed. I am ready for this to be closed.”

Francis said it has been a struggle since the beginning of the pandemic.

“You don’t have no money,” she said.

“The $150 they giving you, BPL (Bahamas Power and Light) is like $200 every month. You have to buy grocery. You have to pay all the utility bills. It was just crazy.”

Francis said she hopes Atlantis considers the difficult times employees are battling.

“I am hoping to get my severance package and move on to my ‘plan b’ and onto the other plans I have made for my life,” she said.

Christopher Pratt, 51, who has worked at the property for 34 years, said the resort has not supported its workers enough during the pandemic.

“Well, we only got some [gratuity] and that’s like once in a while,” Pratt said.

“The government sent something here and there. The (hotel) union gave us $100 in coupons. That was in March. After that, we haven’t been supported by the union. We haven’t heard anything from Atlantis, which is bad.”

“[N]ow, we in this pandemic and no one is even here to even help us. The union, I cry a shame [on them].”

Atlantis has not yet announced a reopening date. 

In correspondence to employees on May 29, the resort noted “uncertainty abounds”.

“When we first closed the resort in March, we were hopeful that we would be able to reopen quickly,” Atlantis said. “However, given the severity of the pandemic, we now know that was not possible.”

It added, “During the closure period, we have done everything possible to ease your concerns. As previously communicated, the ex-gratia payment that you have been receiving will come to an end on May 31.

“We understand this may create additional hardship for you and your families. And you can be confident that we are exploring all avenues to lessen your burden.”

The resort informed that medical benefit coverage for employees had been extended to July 31. That benefit was then extended to the end of September.

Yesterday, some employees like Veronica Faustin, who was furloughed since March, said they felt disrespected by Atlantis.

“They don’t value their employees,” Faustin claimed.

“Baha Mar gave their employees [30] percent and plus $150 from NIB, but Atlantis refuses to do anything for us. We haven’t got anything from Atlantis.”

Faustin, who worked in the laundry department, said she is ready to cut ties with the resort.

“I want to take my severance [pay] and go,” she said.

“I called them myself and told them I wanted my severance pay; let me go. They said they are not issuing any packages at this time.”

Theresa Curtis, who worked 13 years as a cook at Mosaic restaurant at The Cove, said she is ready to part ways with the property as well.

“Right now, I just want my severance pay,” Curtis said.

“I think I reached the point where I could use my severance pay for the situation I’m in right now.”

She said despite receiving NIB unemployment benefits, she is still struggling.

“I’ve been getting it, but I am behind on my rent and my light bill,” Curtis said. “It’s a struggle.”

Perry Seymour, who has worked for Atlantis as a manager in the laundry department, claimed the resort has not done anything for him over the last six months.

“Atlantis always prides itself of being a well-respected organization,” Seymour said.

“[They] never had a problem with paying people. Here it is, Baha Mar, who just come, was the very one to make its people redundant and still the [people] they kept got 30 percent pay. What has Atlantis done? Nothing.”

Adrian Francis, managing director of Operation Sovereign Bahamas, who organized the meeting, said he thought it was necessary to stand with hotel workers to ensure they receive what is due to them.

“We have taken on the plight of the people of Atlantis,” Francis said.

“They have come to us and asked us to take on their situation regarding their severance packages from Atlantis.”

Atlantis did not respond to the matter yesterday.

While some employees and their representatives believe they ought to be considered redundant by now due to the protracted layoff period, during the state of emergency, employers are not obligated to adhere to Section 28(C) of the Employment Act, which deals with redundancy.

Under that section, where an employee has been laid off for a continuous period of at least 12 weeks, such layoff shall be deemed a dismissal because of redundancy.

But that provision has been suspended for the duration of the state of public emergency and 30 days after.

In addition to making demands for severance pay, the Atlantis workers are also displeased with the representation of the hotel union.

Adrian Francis told The Nassau Guardian yesterday, “[T]hey wanted to take a stand against the hotel union, who they felt has not treated them well over the years and they are going to file a lawsuit against the hotel union and the leadership of that union.

“They want access to all of the assets that belong to them, including the building. They want access to all of the cash that is in the union and they want to know how much money they have and they want to find out why the union has not treated them in the context in which their constitution states.”

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Italia Clarke

Italia Clarke joined the Nassau Guardian in August 2020. Clarke covers national, human interest and social issues. Education: University of The Bahamas, BA in Media Journalism

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