With the COVID-19 pandemic postponing the reopening date of some of the country’s major hotels, some Atlantis workers were gathered near the House of Labour on Wulff Road yesterday to express that they are looking to receive their severance packages if the government does not present a plan for hotel workers soon.
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said last week that the country is already in phase two of its four-phase plan.
He also stated that phase three is expected to begin on October 15 and will include the opening of major hotels, full beach access on all islands and water taxis being allowed to operate.
Dave Beckford, who has worked 25 years in the tourism industry, said he cannot continue to be furloughed and is looking for some clarity on the way forward.
“…I don’t think nobody wants to be made redundant,” Beckford said.
“Nobody wants to see mass redundancy. But at the end of the day, how long are we going to be furloughed? There are many hotel workers who I know would accept their redundancy packages. I think it’s time for the prime minister to speak directly to hotel workers. We are the backbone for this industry.”
Beckford said the pandemic has made life difficult for many but he is looking for authorities to provide a plan for those who work for the hotels.
“…We know that this is an unprecedented time, but all we are saying is as hotel workers, give us some dignity and some respect. We are the backbone of this industry.”
He said he does not see the tourism industry picking up soon.
“Why would they open the entire property if we don’t have guest occupancy or guests to fill the rooms? Even if they open up, that means many workers will still be furloughed. At what point is a decision made to offer the workers redundancy packages?
“…We want a clear message from the prime minister. We need to hear from the minister of labor as well.”
Leslie Humes, who said he has worked at the property that is now the Atlantis resort for 36 years, said he is ready to part ways with the company.
“I said before and I’ll say it again, I only want my severance package so I could be out there,” Humes said.
He also said that having a trade skill is what helped him through these tough economic times.
“If we don’t have skills of our own to do anything else but depend on the hotel to open up, a lot of us are going to die from starvation and suffering because we don’t have nothing else to do,” he said.
“I was an upholsterer before I started Atlantis, so that’s how I could live.”
Beckford said he has also been hustling to make ends meet since the start of the pandemic.
“By the grace of God, I am surviving. I have a truck if someone needs their yard cleaned. I’m also a gardener,” he said.
“I have been a part of the government assistance with the groceries and everything. It’s still not sustainable. The $150 is not sustainable. It’s less than minimum wage.”
Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union President Darrin Woods said yesterday that there are avenues available for hotel workers seeking to leave their jobs.
“As it relates to anyone wanting to receive severance pay or redundancy, there’s a provision in the industrial agreement that speaks to it specifically,” he said.
“…If the employer makes them redundant or if the employee has been laid off for 10 consecutive weeks, they can elect to engage in that process.”
However, Woods said while he understands the position of the workers, cutting ties with the hotels is not something that the union supports.
“Redundancy is not something the union advocates for because, of course, we advocate for employment,” he said.
“Given the circumstances, of course, we understand the uncertainty. With the continuous moving of the opening date, people just want to know exactly what’s happening.”
He also said some people who have reached out have opted out of taking severance pay.
“We have had some people approach us and said, ‘What about the packages?’” Woods said.
“When we worked out what it actually entails, some of them said it was nothing much. What we have been doing is meeting with shop stewards virtually and asking them what the employees are saying and what is the mood because we have heard the rumbling.”
He said if workers follow the proper procedures, they should receive their payments.
“…Once they initiate whatever process it is, the union will ensure that whatever they are entitled to, they get,” Woods said.
“As soon as we get information, we disseminate it. We have been trying to get from all the major hotels a definitive date as to when the opening is going to be. We got pretty much the same answer that they would have said to the minister of tourism and the government. We can only wait to see.”