By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
WEB shop employees yesterday suggested a boycott of businesses or economic interests of Cabinet ministers as operators pledge to take their fight against an impending tax increase on their sector all the way to the Privy Council.
A boycott in protest of the tax hike’s projected impact on the industry was raised by an employee during a forum held by the Bahamas Gaming Operators Association at the British Colonial Hilton.
The sector has warned government that the increase will result in some 2,000 job losses and the closure of more than 100 storefronts throughout the country.
“This is preparing to be a tough time,” said one employee, “and what we need to do I guess is figure out ways we can approach it from different directions. Maybe we should go buy a scrubbing board, a tin tub, we got to hit them where it hurts.
“Capitalise on Superwash,” the employee continued. “Let’s go to those other washhouses, let them see how it feels. This three weeks leave them alone, let them see how it hurts in their pocket.”
Superwash is owned by Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar, whose portfolio also includes Bahamasair.
The suggestion was met by a rousing chorus with the names of other established businesses called out from the packed room.
“The reality is we were forced into this…there will be job cuts,” said Erica Laing, executive director of administration and finance at The Island Game, who assured workers any upcoming job cuts as a result of the government’s proposed sliding tax scale will be unbiased and based on performance.
“I don’t know about y’all, but I’m not cut out to be a housekeeper or a space cleaner. It isn’t about the classification of the job, it’s about what you are here and here cut out and qualified to do,” she said, pointing to her head and heart.
“I’m looking at you and I don’t see cashiers, I see customer service representatives. We are so much more than what they see and it’s time they realise that.”
Ms Laing’s remarks were likely a hit at comments made by Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson, who recently apologised after he came under fire for suggesting web shop workers who are laid off could seek out entry-level jobs at Baha Mar, such as in housekeeping.
In a side interview with The Tribune, Ms Laing said web shop workers represented a number of professionals ranging from accounting and finance, to compliance, design and computer programmers.
“We’re cashiers, we’re customer service representatives, we’re IT professionals, we’re human resources professionals, marketing professionals, computer programming, we are so much more,” Ms Laing told this newspaper.
“To coin Sesame Street, we’re the people in your neighbourhood, and more than that we have buying power. Our girls spend money at various hair dressers, grocery stores, shops, so when you affect one job in the web industry, you are affecting so many other industries and so many other people.”
Island Luck Human Resources Director Shanette Rahming said: “It’s a hard decision, unfortunately our hands are tied. It’s a decision, if the government stands on this proposed increase, the thought of knowing it will affect families as a whole, and not just families within the organisation.
“We have locations that are leased, those being closed down impacts the landlord. There’s Cable Bahamas, BTC, all of us will be impacted. We don’t know if the government has looked at it from that point.”
More than 100 industry employees attended the forum hosted by the BGOA to update workers on its fight against the proposed tax, and field suggestions on the way forward.
“We are doing everything humanly possible, we’re using all our recourse and ammunition to save your jobs and your livelihood,” said BGOA President Gershan Major.
“We are moving in deliberate manner to really see how we can resolve this,” he continued, “and there is no sleep for the weary and we’re doing our part to make sure we do everything humanly possible to fight for you. This is why we wanted to have this conversation. We do not have all the answers, I welcome your input.
“The government has the sovereign right to tax,” he continued, “we are not disputing that position.
“No government has the sovereign right to tax you into oblivion or decimate a sector or put a sector at such risk due to taxation that it causes harm to one’s livelihood without due compensation.”
Yesterday, web shop executives flagged the philanthropic and social impact of the industry, most notably in providing access to continuing education for workers.
Earlier this year, the BGOA announced it would allocate $7.1 million to civic and corporate philanthropy, some $3m more than its statutory requirement.
Ms Laing said 60 percent of her staff was seeking to better themselves, and currently engaged in programmes ranging from anti-money laundering, compliance, accounting, and business to computer programming.
“I have others that did not have an opportunity coming out of school, and saying ‘how can I improve myself?’ So I have some staff doing their BGCSEs now and in the summer going into college prep,” she said.
Ms Laing said web shops employ a large number of single mothers, many of whom were the principle breadwinners in their family.
“The thing is,” she continued, “I think it’s almost impossible for the government to just make a decision just looking at data and statistics. We don’t want to be another statistic, we are so much more than what they see on paper.
“We’re members of our community, members of our church, we’re people that help various charities, we are entrepreneurs in the making some of us. We are young people that are seeking to better themselves by improving their education, which a lot of the web shops pay for.
“If you’re studying something that is going to help you on your job it’s paid for, if you’re doing something else you can still get a staff loan at zero to three percent interest.
“We take care of our staff and we take care of the people in our community, so we’re so much more than what people are tossing around out there.”
At yesterday’s forum, Mr Major was asked by The Tribune whether operators had considered absorbing the net impact to their profit margins to retain staff.
He replied: “If you make $100 today and I say to you without doing anything to provide any input in how that earning of the $100 came about, and I say I’m going to take $20 from that before you pay anything, no I’ll just take $50 at the maximum.
“How would you categorise that? And that’s for you to think about, not for you to answer,” Mr Major continued, “because what the proposed tax increase suggests is a sliding scale at the minimum 20 percent of gross, 50 percent of gross, that means before any bonus pay out to those who participate as patrons, lease, salaries, light, utility and all other costs.
“So when you look at the net effect it’s far less than what should be reasonably considered and that’s our contention. You’re talking about a current position of 11 percent of your net gross revenue to 20, to 50 percent. That’s an 81 percent to over 350 percent increase.
“Now,” he asked the room, “anyone who thinks that’s reasonable raise your hand.”