By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The hotel union’s president last night said the impact from Atlantis’ plan to re-open the Coral Towers in November will be determined by the number of employees recalled to work.
Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) president, spoke out after the Paradise Island mega resort confirmed to Tribune Business that the Coral Towers will re-open next month to accommodate guest demand associated with the return of the Battle 4 Atlantis pre-season college basketball tournament.
While this newspaper was informed the re-opening is set for November 15, an Atlantis spokesperson gave no specific date in their response to inquiries. They said: “The Coral at Atlantis will re-open in advance of Battle 4 Atlantis to accommodate both the festive season demand and the fans, coaches, and student athletes travelling to experience the most anticipated NCAA tournament of the year. This year, the Women’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament debuts November 20, followed by the Men’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament starting November 24.”
Praising Atlantis’ decision to further expand its post-COVID opening, Mr Woods voiced optimism that more persons will be recalled from furlough to cater to increased visitor demand as The Bahamas kicks-off the start of the peak winter tourism season at Thanksgiving.
“We need to know how many persons are coming back before we see an impact,” he said. “Even though they are opening, it will be governed by occupancies. We have to see what the occupancy is because that dictates how many persons will be going back to work.
“It’s fine to re-open, but we have to see how many are impacted by it. We have to see what the numbers are. They don’t begin to pick up until the Thanksgiving period. It’s fine but we need to see the numbers before we start getting excited. It’s just a matter of how many persons are going to be affected by it.”
Emphasising that he was not seeking to diminish the importance of key tourism and hotel assets re-opening, Mr Woods added that the hotel union also wanted to know if the Coral Towers re-opening will be sustained through the winter season.
“Once we get into discussions, we will get a better understanding of the period they are talking about,” he said. “They will be able to tell us what the forecast is and how long it will last.
“Any movement in the direction of re-opening and persons going back to work is welcome. We’re not ungrateful. Anything that goes in the direction of re-opening and persons going back to work, we welcome. We will know how long it is going to be for, and the number of persons affected by it, in the next couple of days.”
Mr Woods on Monday said he was hoping that the approaching winter season will result in more furloughed hotel workers being recalled to work, thereby avoiding employers having to decide whether to recall or release them once the ‘stay’ of a key Employment Act provision expires on December 13.
The Government last week signalled that the COVID-19 emergency orders will end on November 12 and not be renewed. This will trigger, some 30 days later, an end to the furlough period for workers sent home by their employers due to COVID-19.
The Employment Act provision, requiring employers to either recall or pay termination packages to workers some 90 days (13 weeks) after they have been sent home, will thus take effect once again on December 13.
The furlough period was always intended to end eventually, given that some workers will by have been at home for nearly 21 months due to COVID-19 come mid-December. Its cessation will thus give such employees closure and certainty, knowing that they will now either be recalled or handed termination packages.
However, while many workers will doubtless welcome receiving full severance pay after a long struggle to survive, they may also struggle to find new jobs in a shrunken economy with high unemployment. As for employers, many may struggle to finance the termination packages mandated by law, following the devastation inflicted on revenues, cash flow and profits by COVID-19.
“What it means is that the employer then has to make a decision on whether to bring persons still on furlough back to work or give them severance packages,” Mr Woods said. “There are some indications that things are turning around a little bit, and that may mean less persons will be affected.
“The thing was to get past September, October and the first part of November. We will be starting to ramp up for Christmas, which will pretty much take us into the busy season for the hotel industry. It may offset it or reduce the numbers. It’s not going to eliminate it [terminations].
“It looks like there are 35 percent on the low end, and 45 percent on the high end, still out on furlough. It’s still a significant amount, and we’re trying our best to get those persons in. We’re trying to ascertain the exact numbers now.”