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News Report: Chamber Director Disagrees Over Severance Payout Call

By Youri Kemp, Tribune Business Reporter - February 8th, 2021

A Chamber of Commerce director says he disagrees with the director of labour's call for some employers to pay furloughed workers full severance packages over fears they will not find new jobs.

Peter Goudie, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation's (BCCEC) labour specialist, told Tribune Business that while such payments might provide workers who have been furloughed since March 2020 with short-term relief from financial hardship, the question they had to ask was: "What do you do when the money runs out?”

Referring to John Pinder's remarks that he had urged some employers, who he did not identify, to pay full termination packages to staff who want them, Mr Goudie said: “I don’t agree with him. You get your redundancy payment, there are no jobs to apply for, and when your redundancy money runs out, what do you do? Go back to begging for social assistance?

“That’s my feelings. I’m just very concerned about it, and when you think about it all of them will be out of a job." The Government's COVID-19 emergency powers orders, which have been extended until May 23 this year, suspend Employment Act provisions requiring companies to pay full severance to workers sent home for 12-13 weeks until 30 days after they expire.

This means that Bahamian workers still on furlough, or temporary lay-off, could remain so for 15 months until end-June 2021 if they had been placed in this status back in March 2020 when the pandemic first struck.

Hotel industry workers, especially some Atlantis staff, have been among the most vocal in demanding that they be paid their full severance entitlement because they are finding it increasingly difficult to survive on the now-$100 per week that they are receiving from the Government-funded unemployment benefits.

However, the flip side is that they may struggle to find new work once their severance pay is used up, while employers may simply be unable to afford the mandated redundancy because of the devastating financial hit inflicted by COVID-19.

"I think it’s safe to say that this is a double-edged sword," Mr Pinder said earlier, "in that there are persons who will now be in extended furlough position who would like to receive severance pay, but the employer for the most part, especially those major employers, feel as though they don’t want to get rid of their good staffers and they are not in the position to offer everybody a severance package.

“So they find themselves in a Catch-22. Yes, people want to receive their severance pay and probably could make an investment and do something with it, but if this thing turns around sooner than we expect and you get rid of all your qualified staffers and those persons who could provide good service, now you find yourself in a position whereas you have to now find yourself new staff and retrain them.

“Even if the persons who you let go decide they want to find something else, but they can’t find what they want and you have to bring them back, there is no guarantee persons on extended furlough will be rehired once the employer has to do that at the same position, with the same salary, with the same benefits. As long as you are on furlough, they still have their tenure. They still have the same positions and they still have the benefits that they were entitled to.”

Mr. Pinder's calls was previously backed by Obie Ferguson, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) president, who said he preferred full severance packages for furloughed workers to the Government extending unemployment benefits until end-February 2021.

But Mr. Goudie argued: “Right now they still have a job to go to. So once our vaccine comes in, we get people immunised, then our economy will start coming back.”

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