‘Almost inhuman’ to extend furlough wait


Obie Ferguson, President of the Trade Union Congress.

• Union leader fears ‘extra hardship’ for workers

• Redundancy pay bar pushed to September

• Tripartite vice-chair: Fears ‘make no sense’


Tribune Business Editor


A trade union leader yesterday argued it was “almost inhuman” to expect already-furloughed workers to hold on for another three months without severance pay due to the COVID emergency’s extension.

Obie Ferguson, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) president, told Tribune Business that the government’s bid to extend its emergency powers until August 13, 2021, threatens to inflict “additional serious hardship” on thousands of workers - especially from the hotel and tourism industries - who have yet to be recalled to work.

Describing those persons as “extremely frustrated”, he added that the move will extend the long-running furlough period - introduced last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit as a means to protect jobs - until mid-September as it lasts for 30 days beyond when the emergency powers end.

This suspended the Employment Act provision requiring employers to either recall or pay full severance to a worker once they have been sent home for 90 days, or 13 weeks. The effect has been a double-edged sword because, while it has preserved jobs, it has meant that some workers - who now face the prospect of being furloughed for up to 18 months - have had no severance to support them.

They are now faced with having to rely on the government’s $100 weekly unemployment assistance for a few more months at least, and Mr Ferguson disclosed that he had been told by several furloughed workers that they will “do whatever it takes to feed their families” - even if it involves activities that he described as “not morally and socially acceptable”.

“Needless to say it’s going to cause additional serious hardship for these workers,” the TUC president and labour attorney said of the emergency powers extension. “I am very concerned because this last week I had a conversation with a number of these workers. They are extremely frustrated, particularly those from the hotel sector.

“I told them that the Government has set the protocol, and that you have to comply. It has created a serious, serious problem for many workers in this country. They are indicating to me that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to find ways to feed their families.

“Some have had to resort to social activities we do not consider acceptable. Some of them, especially the younger ones, they’ll do whatever they have to do to find sufficient means to take care of their families. It’s something that we don’t condone, I don’t condone, things that are not socially and morally acceptable in our society. We don’t want to encourage it, and I’m recalling what they told me.”

Mr Ferguson did not explain what he meant by “social activities we do not consider acceptable” despite pushing by this newspaper. However, he added: “It’s a very difficult position. It’s almost inhuman to expect to keep taking care of their families. 

“They could have got redundancy pay and at least have some income to survive, but as long as this furlough is in place and extended by the Government, there is nothing you can do. You could go to court, but because the system is not responsive to that type of hearing that could take from one to three years.”

Mr Ferguson said the implications of the Government’s emergency orders extension for furloughed workers were especially concerning given the recent University of The Bahamas (UoB) research that found Nassau’s monthly living wage is $2,625 while that for Grand Bahama is $3,550 per month.

However, Peter Goudie, the National Tripartite Council’s vice-chairman, yesterday argued that ending the furlough period and paying workers their due severance brought with it other consequences for both employers and employee alike.

While workers may gain short-term income, Mr Goudie said this could ultimately turn out to be merely a temporary reprieve as the depressed economy meant their prospects for finding alternative employment once the severance pay is used up are markedly diminished.

And he pointed out that, as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and related measures over the past 14 months, many employers simply lack the financial wherewithal and cash flow to make severance payments to furloughed workers.

Mr Goudie, a private sector representative on the TUC, said of the furlough extension: “I am really, and I am going to use the word ‘tired’, but I’m tired of Obie [Ferguson] and Bernard [Evans, the National Congress of Trade Unions president] wanting redundancy payments and for people to be put out of work. There’s nothing more to be said.

“It just makes no sense. I can’t say anything else. I have to leave it at that. You either want the job or you don’t and you quit. Both union leaders reacted to the comments I made about the livable wage study, but even they admitted the country cannot afford it, so where are they coming from? I just don’t get it. Once you are made redundant they’re not going to call you back.”

Mr Evans, meanwhile, said that while he understood the need for the Government to extend the COVID emergency orders as case numbers rise amid relatively slow progress on vaccinations, there was a requirement to “simultaneously” provide that employers offer full redundancy packages and associated benefits to workers who want to take them.

“They need to think more carefully about how workers are faring in these times,” he charged. “I think they should simultaneously or commensurately bring relief to the workers by also providing some kind of relief as it relates to the Employment Act and the extension.”

The Prime Minister yesterday told the House of Assembly he hopes the Government can end its planned emergency powers extension before they expire on August 13, but much depends on the pace of vaccination roll-outs and if The Bahamas can get to grips with its current infection numbers.

John Pinder, acting director of labour, yesterday voiced optimism that fewer and fewer Bahamians will remain on furlough as the economy continues to open up and tourist arrivals increase, thereby ensuring hotels will recall more staff.

“A lot of persons from the hotels are returning to work,” he said. “It’s only a matter of getting these ships in port and we’ll be better off. It all hinges on how quickly we get this vaccination programme out to a reasonable amount of persons so we can bring some level of normalcy back, or a new way of business.

“That’s the bigger problem we gave right now. The ‘third wave’ of infections has increased to the point where the emergency orders had to be extended. We must encourage Bahamians to get vaccinated and have strong immune systems.”


thephoenix562 2 years, 4 months ago

Recalled to work to do what? I do agree the workers should be paid their severance.


truetruebahamian 2 years, 4 months ago

Done with these union mobsters. I'm keeping my pennies in my pocket rather than theirs and arguing where I have to for myself. They don't see me as anything but another soldier for them. I am going to save my money and go out on my own.


DDK 2 years, 4 months ago

The PM's response to the whole "pandemic" thing is the cause of the hardship on the nation. He ensured, at the expense of The People, that he, his cabinet and entire civil service would be paid for doing nothing or next to nothing during his lockdowns. He blindly followed the rest of the world governments without a clue as to what he was doing and the ramifications on the population at large. I don't see he and his peeps reaching into their personal deep pockets to assist The People whose lives he has ruined. The icing on the cake is his threat to keep his super powers indefinitely unless The People submit to the experimental vaccines for a virus which, they say, continues changing, just like different strains of influenza!! There is nothing good to say about this man or his dictatorial regime, nothing at all.


FreeUs242 2 years, 4 months ago

Bahamians don't support each other as a nation, sad.


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