By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Some Bahamian gas stations have been forced to temporarily lay-off workers due to their opening hours being slashed to just 1pm amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Ethan Moss, managing director of JMEL Enterprises, which operates six Rubis gas stations throughout New Providence, confirmed to Tribune Business that the government’s move to further reduce gas station operating hours under the Emergency Powers Act would result in temporary lay-offs for some of his staff.
He explained that reducing opening hours from 6am to 1pm, as opposed to the 6am to 5pm timeline, meant that gas stations have been reduced from two shifts per day to just one. Previously 24/7 operations split into three eight-hour shifts, whereas the previous COVID-19 opening hours enabled them to keep all workers on at reduced hours and days, gas stations are now finding it impossible to stuff three shifts into one.
“What it means is that in essence we have moved from three shifts down to two shifts and now down to one shift,” Mr Moss explained. “So it impacts the ability to employ people, our team members, as we would have.
“My take is I think the government and the health officials attempt to do what is in the best interest of the country, and while we are an essential service we are governed by what they say. It is tough, but the greater good is what’s important.
Mr Moss added: “Frankly I don’t know why they moved to the 1pm closure time. All I can tell you is how moving to a 5pm shift to a 1pm shift - how it impacts how I govern my business of distributing fuel. To be very honest with you, I’m not sure what’s the reasoning for the government doing it, so I can’t speak to it. I can only imagine it is in this effort to try and curb this traffic and to keep the distancing that is important. That is my take on it.
“If we are reducing shifts from three shifts a day, because we are a 24-hour operation and we are now down to a one, eight-hour shift a day, that means we will have to do what we have to do in order to make sure we can open to the public when we are allowed to. We have gone through the process of reduced hours, but now with one shift we have no ability to carry a full staff complement as we were before.”
Without saying how many persons he plans to lay off, Mr Moss said: “I think this impacts quite a number of Bahamians, and it’s going to impact the number of Bahamians I have employed. I think that it is super important that we do what the officials, and those who know best as they lead us and serve us and govern us, pay attention and do what is required of us. I prefer to do it quickly and not prolong it.”
Those impacted by the gas station lay-offs will likely include pump attendants and others who are likely earning close to the minimum wage or just above it, meaning the change in operating hours is striking those with lower incomes.
Oswald Moore, acting chairman of the Bahamas Petroleum Retailers Association, told Tribune Business that reduced gas station operating hours have not been “effectively communicated to the public”.
“I have no problems with it,” he said. “My position is that with the traffic on the road reduced by about 70 percent, the remaining persons who have to be driving up and down, if they know that the time is from 6am to 1pm then they would get that fuel within that timeframe.
“So you would sell the same amount of fuel if you were open 6am to 1pm that you would sell from 6am to 5pm, and what that does is that it gives you a chance to use your employees a little more efficiently, because we probably over-staffed that shift a little bit so that. I really don’t have a problem with it. In addition to that, what it does by us and our employees being out less it makes things safer for us our employees and the public.”
Mr Moore, who is the owner/operator of the Rubis Gas stations at Harbour View and on the East-West Highway, added: “I don’t have any issues with going against some of the other retailers. I know that some of us feel different. But you asked me for my view and I gave you my view.”
“The only problem I have with it is that I don’t think it [the reduced hours] was effectively communicated to the public so that they know, and I still think that needs to be done. That timing needs to be effectively communicated to the public.”
Clinton Rolle, deputy general manager of Sun Oil with responsibility for sales and marketing, added: “With regard to the 1pm closure, basically we just want the public to know that we support the social distancing measures the government is putting in place.
“The 1pm closures that have been recently instituted are creating a bit of a panic at the sites, and we are starting to see longer lines, but we want to reassure the public that we have fuel and there is no shortage of fuel.
“The reality is that not everyone may be served by 1pm. But the product is there and we are willing to serve as long as the Government allows us to, but the reality of the 1pm curfew and shut off for the retail segments may not be working out at this term.”
Vasco Bastian, owner and operator of Esso East Street South and Soldier Road, said of the 1pm closures: “I am not happy with it. I was complaining about it. I think it is causing complete chaos at the gas stations, and I think the Government should revisit it again.
“You have people who are working; the banks close at one. You have people who are in the wholesale business, you have the other medical personnel who are considered essential workers, they get off at 1pm, they get of at 2pm and they get off at 3pm. Allow them to come to the gas stations and buy petroleum and diesel for them to go back and forth to work.
“You will also avoid all of the long lines at the food stores. They can come inside and buy their snacks and stuff in the gas station other than bombarding the food stores. If you want to avoid people driving up and down then extend the hours so people can have more time to buy fuel. You are creating panic in the society by doing things like this. This does not make any sense. This is not a well thought out plan.”
Mr Bastian added: “I think the Government should revisit it immediately and take it back to 5pm, and allow different persons from different industries to come to the gas stations at different times so we don’t have these long lines and chaos and, then, all of the police action. It is unnecessary. They just need to revisit it, just take it back to 5pm and everybody would be happy
“A lot of people, when you see all of those cars to the gas stations, often times they may be people coming to get medication because the pharmacy line is long, or they might want to use the ATM machine because the bank line is long. Just extend it back to 5pm so everyone could be happy so we could get over this COVID-19 pandemic.”