Answers sought on City Markets

By NATARIO McKENZIE Tribune Business Reporter nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net THE trade union representing City Markets' line staff is urgently seeking clarification from the Finlayson family over claims that the embattled five-store supermarket chain may shut its locations this coming Friday, and the status of attempts to sell the business. Executives of the Bahamas Commercial Stores, Supermarkets and Warehouse Workers Union (BCSWWU) were attempting to meet with City Markets' principal, Mark Finlayson, as early as Friday to discuss the fate of the embattled retail chain and its 400 remaining employees, amid claims it will close by the end of this week. The latest developments come just days after Mr Finlayson, principal of 78 per cent majority shareholder, Trans-Island Traders, told Tribune Business he was negotiating with two separate international groups over the purchase of a majority stake in the struggling five-store chain. Mr Finlayson said his family, headed by Sir Garet 'Tiger' Finlayson, would "remain in" as minority equity investors regardless of who acquired majority control. But rumours of the retail chain's impending closure did not sit well with the stores' employees, who are demanding their due compensation. BCSWWU administrator, Rosalie McKenzie, when contacted by Tribune Business on Friday, said the union was set to meet with City Markets' principal to discuss the matter. "We had heard about the situation. We are in the process of meeting with Mr Finlayson to discuss the matter further. I can't say what the closure is all about, under what conditions they are closing or what benefits the workers will get. We only heard a few rumours. We haven't gotten any word from him; only what we have been hearing from staff," Ms McKenzie said. Labour Minister Dion Foulkes could not be reached for comment. Tribune Business contacted Mr Finlayson briefly on Thursday night, as speculation swirled in the food retail industry that a sale had been concluded, but he denied this and said no deal for City Markets was sealed yet. He could not be reached for comment either on Friday or last night. However, Whanslaw Turnquest, City Markets' chief inventory control auditor, told Tribune Business: "I am now representing all of the employees, both corporate and retail, at City Markets. Callenders & Co will be representing all retirees and pensioners at City Markets. "At the moment, we are very concerned about the severance package of the workers at City Markets. As an auditor, I am bound by the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to protect the shareholders. As the last standing auditor from 1988 to present, it is my legal responsibility to make sure that all monies owed to staff, including pensioners, workers and shareholders, and other equitable matters dealings, are done in sound business practice. "As of this morning, I met with Mr Harcourt Brown at the Ministry of Labour. We gave direction to the Prime Minister's office two weeks ago by e-mail. Direction was also given to the Attorney General at the same time. A copy was sent to the attorneys that are representing us that all trustees be removed from the pension fund immediately, that all monies owed to the pension fund are paid immediately, and the severance package due and owed it to its staff be paid immediately, along with all back pay to the employees. "In some cases, people have not been paid for up to three weeks. There is still vacation money owed from last year. We are now under one umbrella. We are calling on all pensioners that have benefits within the pension plan. We will be meeting with our legal team early next week, either Monday or Tuesday. We are now taking control of the pension fund. This is our money and no one should be able to deal with it but us. We are setting up our own board of trustees." City Markets' recent weekend 'blow out' sale was designed to clear all existing inventory prior to the supermarket chain's purchase. The shelves of one outlet visited by Tribune Business on Friday evening were virtually bare of inventory, with one cashier left to facilitate purchases. The retailer's woes have been highly publicised in recent times, with store closures as well as pension fund and regulatory issues all being brought to the fore. City Markets' operating parent suffered a $16.587 million net loss for its 2011 financial year that closed at end-June last year, a sum more than double the previous year's, prior to $15.453 million in 'extraordinary income' cutting the bottom line's red ink to $1.135 million. The $16.587 million net loss (before extraordinary items) is some 124 per cent ahead of the $7.808 million in red ink incurred during the final year of the ill-fated BSL Holdings reign.


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