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Hundreds lose jobs as Cable Bahamas and John Bull shut shops

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Cable Bahamas yesterday confirmed the temporary lay-off of almost 100 staff as its top executive revealed that major corporate clients are warning "daily" they may stop using its services.

Franklyn Butler, the BISX-listed communications provider’s chief executive, told Tribune Business that the likes of hotels, web shops and liquor stores were repeatedly sounding the alarm that they will not be Cable Bahamas customers "if the emergency orders extend much longer".

Confirming that the lay-offs were designed to prepare Cable Bahamas and its affiliates for a post-COVID-19 future, Mr Butler said the group's action had primarily impacted workers employed at now-closed retail stores operated by itself and the Aliv mobile provider. Sales teams were also affected as Cable Bahamas moved to ensure its survival amid the loss of major income-generating clients.

The move, which involves 76 Cable Bahamas employees and 20 at Aliv, was announced as Tribune Business learned that John Bull, the luxury goods market leader, had informed hundreds of staff that it will also be temporarily laying them off with all store locations closed amid the pandemic lockdown.

Well-placed sources said John Bull workers were informed on Monday that they will receive their full pay for March, and 50 percent of what is due for April, with the National Insurance Board (NIB) to step in with benefits payments after that.

Tribune Business was also informed that the hotel/restaurant shutdown has sparked temporary downsizing for at least one major wholesaler due to the loss of this lucrative business, although this newspaper is withholding the name because this could not be confirmed before press time. These moves, though, show how corporate giants in the Bahamian context are not immune from the pandemic fall-out.

Mr Butler, meanwhile, acknowledged that the Cable Bahamas/Aliv lay-offs amounted to nearly one out of every seven employees as the ripple effects from the tourism shutdown - and subsequent national lockdown - start to be felt throughout the wider Bahamian economy.

"We don't have any retail stores open at all between ourselves and Aliv," he told Tribune Business. "We have a lot of foot soldiers in our business. We tried to deploy them to contact centres as the first port of call, and moved them in there on both ends of the business to try and keep people employed as best we can, but we couldn't move everyone in there.

"There were a couple of smaller areas impacted, but that's where we had the most additional capacity: It was mainly retail and sales." Cable Bahamas, in a statement issued yesterday, said the possibility of "imminent serious downsizing measures" had been flagged to both staff, and Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, some two weeks ago on March 23.

Revealing that COVID-19 and the subsequent recession will have a "significant enough" impact on Cable Bahamas' revenues, Mr Butler added: "Everybody would appreciate that the hotels, gaming houses and everyone else that is impacted by COVID-19 and the emergency orders - the liquor stores and those kind of customers - that will have a large impact on the commercial business.

"A lot of those guys are hedging, adjusting for short-term disruption, and advising that if the emergency Orders extend much longer they will have to disconnect services. That's a daily conversation I'm having with customers. That's the reality of where we find ourselves as a country at this stage.

"This is unprecedented. We don't know what the future holds. We've been trying to keep an eye on the future as well, and we thought the best thing to do given the uncertainty is to allow for these folks. We are going to be supplementing any contribution from NIB with an additional $400 per pay period which is every two weeks," the Cable Bahamas chief continued.

"We're trying to do the right thing to make sure the business can adjust, right-size and be sustainable while also taking care of our people. It was a tough one for us. This has been a very difficult decision to make both for myself and the executive leadership team, but it is necessary in order for us to meet the demands of the business both now and in the future.”

Cable Bahamas will act as a payment agent on the National Insurance Board's (NIB) behalf to ensure the 12 weeks' unemployment benefit is paid to staff directly via their bank accounts. It will also continue to cover health insurance costs for those temporarily laid-off, as well as both its and their contribution to the group pension plan.

The BISX-listed firm's executive team have also taken varying pay cuts over the lay-off period to ensure $200,000 can be placed into an "employee fund" that will finance the $400 per pay period supplementary benefits payment to staff.

Mr Butler yesterday added that persons should not connect the $301.5m proceeds received from selling the US subsidiary, Summit Broadband, to the temporary lay-offs. The sale, he added, closed before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, and the proceeds had already been earmarked for the much-needed restructuring of Cable Bahamas' balance sheet and paying down its $468m debt.

Asked how well-placed Cable Bahamas is to cope with a post-COVID-19 world, Mr Butler replied: "I think we're pretty strong. I have some very brilliant colleagues on the team who even now are finding creative new sources of revenue, but that takes time.

"I'm convinced I lead the best team of employees in The Bahamas, and have no doubt that with their support we'll get through. The internal comments have been very positive, and I've been very open and transparent with the team. We'll be ready for a very bright future for us again."

However, Damian Blackburn, Aliv's top executive, told Tribune Business that 30 persons at the mobile operator had been impacted rather than the 20 noted by Cable Bahamas. Besides the 20 temporary lay-offs, a further 10 had departed on the sales side.

"We've successfully redeployed over 50 of the sales team to do business continuity activities," he added, "taking and making calls to customers as we try to encourage them to use social distancing appropriate methods to pay and top-up via the MyAliv app.

"We've redeployed people to do that, and to provide the concierge sales service with assistance for replacing handsets, SIM cards and Wi-fi. We have managed to re-orientate the business and retain the services of 50 team members who have adapted to serving customers in a unique way from what they were doing at sales levels."

However, Mr Blackburn added: "Nobody should be under any illusions that the emergency powers that have had to be enacted by the Government, and rightly so to stop the spread of the virus, will have a drastic impact on the business' ability to generate the same revenues as when working normally.

"It doesn't take a genius to work out if the stores are closed where our customers' pay for their plans and top-ups that has an impact on our business. The impact of this is changing every day, and we monitor it closely and do everything we have to to keep customers connected."

Comments

moncurcool 2 years, 4 months ago

Ok what I am missing. The article notes that Mr. Butler says that Cable Bahamas is positioned very strong to cope with a post COVID-19 world. If that is so then why are they laying off people? Something does not correlate there.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 4 months ago

Wait until no one has cable TV, phone and internet services. Significantly jacking up prices to non-commercial/residential customers to try stay in business will not be an option because many will soon be without jobs and money to pay for such services anyway. And the cat will surely be set amongst the pigeons when many are left sitting at home under curfew without these essential services to help them try keep their sanity.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 4 months ago

There's a rumour circulating that Bahamas Food Services (BFS), which is owned by the US corporation Sysco, either has or is about to announce major lay-offs. Hopefully there is no truth to this because BFS is one of the largest importers of food for our country. Can Minnis order that they remain open for business as an essential service? Same of course goes for Cable Bahamas? The provision of certain types of services and products are very much in the national security interests of our country at this time.

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realitycheck242 2 years, 4 months ago

it might be true because BFS cater to the major holes which are all closed down. BFS closure wont affect super value because their traditional suppliers are the old Bahamian oligarchy food whoesale companies.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 4 months ago

It will affect the fast food restaurants and their drive thru services and if closed would leave our nation with one less significant importer of food no matter who the end customer may be.

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realitycheck242 2 years, 4 months ago

I smell a rat ….Cable Bahamas sold their Summit Broadband Florida company for $301.5m US. The deal was closed earlier this year so why lay off 100 staff members at this time. I question calling it temporary the same week they sign an agreement with sun cash to accept Cable Bahamas cash payments and Cash and Go is allowed to operate banking hours and also accept CB payments. Looks like a down sizing exercise to me with Covid-19 being used as an excuse.. I think those customer service employees got thrown under the bus. Sun cash and Cash and go now doing their work.

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ThisIsOurs 2 years, 4 months ago

This is predictable.

Persons with jobs have been blind for years to the struggle of the 10% unemployed. What they haven't considered is as that unemployment number increases, the less people there are to give money to their employer.

Have you seen the newspapers? They are ad-less. The Tribune and Guardian will soon have to lay off staff. "Unless" they can dig deep into investors pockets. BTC will layoff staff. Aliv will lay off more people. ZNS will have to let go staff. Govt will eventually have to let people go. This is inevitable. The longer the crisis goes on, that much more companies will be added to the list.

Businesses need customers to subsidize payroll. No customers no payroll

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shonkai 2 years, 4 months ago

Companies that have been raking in the exorbitant profits for years now all of a sudden, after 3 weeks of (partial) shutdown can no longer keep their employees on the payroll. This is a sad country. Praise to the companies that keep their staff on, despite being closed. By the way, doesn't the closure of that monstrosity called Fusion have anything to do with this?

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Socrates 2 years, 4 months ago

Anybody who hasn't been asleep last 4 weeks, realizes this is just the beginning.. a lot more bad news to come.. make no mistake, our economic existence as we knew it is in very grave danger of never returning.

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