By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Super Value's principal is questioning if "people want to work" as the supermarket chain struggles to fill up to 100 vacant posts amid an unemployment rate predicted by the Prime Minister to hit 30 percent.
Rupert Roberts, pictured, told Tribune Business that the company was one of the few recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown with 30 cashiers, stockmen, trainee managers, department heads, frozen food and fresh produce workers among the vacancies it is trying to fill.
"I would think that in this country today there must be 3,000 to 5,000 cashiers out of a job, and we can't even find 30 of them to carry on business," he said. "We like to carry 30 extra, two per store. I'm wondering if people don't want to work, if they want to be supported by the Government.
"I don't understand. I think if I was out of work I'd grab on to a job. There's a lot of positions we have vacant, easily 60 and maybe 100, and 30 of them are cashiers. We're managing five trainee managers, but we need five more trainee managers. This is a crisis time. People are not hiring, but we're short of people. The reason we're short is people are quitting at this time of crisis, and if they get unruly they get fired."
With the Department of Labour and its employment exchange closed, although it is due to start opening back up today, Mr Roberts said he has given "an ultimatum" to Super Value's human resources department "to go out there and find the staff".
Job openings are currently limited to non-existent. Dr Hubert Minnis, in his national address yesterday, predicted that The Bahamas' national unemployment rate will hit "an extraordinary and unprecedented 30 percent" with the National Insurance Board (NIB) having received 25,000 benefit claims. The Government's revenues for April are 50 percent down year-over-year.
Mr Roberts, meanwhile, said Super Value had been unsuccessfully hunting for new recruits for the past five years but had experienced no better luck amid the COVID-19 pandemic fall-out that, in theory, has made thousands of potential workers available.
"I thought that now with all the lay-offs and closures and shutdowns we'd be able to do it," he added. "I know people want to go back to their old job, but their old job might not come back for three months or longer. If they are cashiers they could come in and work.
"Before the crisis there were people around but they didn't qualify, were ineligible and so on. Others thought they should be given three chances if caught stealing. Theft is our biggest problem. After Hurricane Dorian our stock shortages doubled and we're watching it now. I think people are going to use this pandemic for the same thing. They think: 'It's our time to steal and we can get away with it'."
Mr Roberts said Super Value had already caught a "ring" of cashiers who were "breaking the rules" by "pushing and sweethearting", serving each other. He added: "They take advantage of the crisis to make deals. When the Ministry of Labour gets back to work they need to help us. I'm sure we're not the only ones. We maybe the only ones now."
The Super Value chief added that the cashier shortage meant the supermarket chain was unable to open as many registers as it would like, slowing down service and negatively impacting the customer experience. "It's a serious problem, and I hope by bringing it to the public's attention we get the staff we need," he said.
"We're inviting all former employees in good standing to please reply, and any others in similar industries that have been closed to them to come in. I would think this would be the time people will really be looking. I can't see them sitting back hoping someone's going to feed them and support them until their regular job comes back because their regular job may not ever materialise."
Mr Roberts said applicants will be screened on the phone to ensure the necessary COVID-19 protocols are maintained.