By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
DOWNTOWN merchants say they are glad the government decided to reverse its decision to bar shops from opening on Emancipation Day.
Last week, the government issued a public notice indicating that businesses were not allowed to open on the public holiday.
A number of business owners complained to The Tribune, particularly those who depend on the custom of cruise ship passengers to survive.
But on Friday, the government issued a statement to the press which said: “The general public is hereby notified that shops may open for business during normal operating hours on Emancipation Day which will be observed on Monday, August 6, 2012. As a result, employers should ensure that employees, who are required to work on this holiday, are paid wages in accordance with section 10 (a) of the Employment Act, 2001.”
This section speaks to overtime pay, indicating that any employee who works on a public holiday must be paid double his or her normal hourly rate.
One Bay Street merchant who spoke to The Tribune on condition of anonymity said: “There were a number of cruise ships in port (yesterday). It would have been terrible for us if we weren’t allowed to open for business.
“I appreciate that the government wants people to enjoy public holidays – especially those that have real meaning – but at the same time, they shouldn’t take away the chance for those same people to make substantially more money per hour than they usually do. Many of my employees jump at the chance to work on holidays, and I never insist that any employee works.”
Another downtown employer said: “I’m glad the government changed its mind, but to be honest with you, I was going to open either way. They would have had to arrest me or close my shops by force; I don’t think they have the right to tell me when I can and cannot do business.
“I pay my taxes and my employees all do well, why shouldn’t I be allowed to run my business as I see fit?”
He added: “I am not surprised to see this kind of thing returning now. This was a feature of the previous PLP administration; I don’t ever remember it under the FNM.”
Before he heard of the repeal, one taxi driver said: “This is madness! They taking bread and butter.
“These people come are coming here whether its a holiday or not – what do they expect us to do?
“If the passengers can’t get a taxi or other services, the cruise ships will stop coming here and go to other destinations.”