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Atlantis axes 700 but ‘bigger blow expected’

• Union chief anticipated more than 800 cut in 2008

• PI mega resort blames ongoing COVID uncertainty

• Govt ‘encouraged’ it to give furloughed staff ‘finality’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The termination of 700 Atlantis staff is “not as bad a blow as we thought it would be” based on past precedent, the hotel union’s president argued yesterday.

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Darrin Woods

Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) chief, told Tribune Business he had feared the Paradise Island mega resort could have axed more than the 800 it cut during the 2008-2009 financial crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic had inflicted even greater damage on its finances.

However, yesterday’s terminations are equal to almost ten percent of the Atlantis workforce, which matches the proportion released more than a decade ago, and Mr Woods said he was not seeking to minimise how “bad” the fall-out could be given the difficulties involved in finding alternative employment in the COVID-ravaged Bahamian economy.

He spoke out after Audrey Oswell, Atlantis’ president and managing director, told staff in an early morning letter that the mega resort needed “to make fundamental shifts” given continued uncertainty over the strength and timing of tourism’s post-COVID-19 recovery together with the nature of this rebound.

Predicting that travel and tourism, and the hospitality industry, “will be very different for everyone” when the sector does bounce back, she warned that these changes “will not be temporary or short-lived”.

To ensure the Paradise Island property can cope, Ms Oswell said: “Unfortunately, we have to part ways with team members that we respect and value. Out of 7,300 Atlantis team members, 700 of our colleagues will not be returning..... Many teams across the organisation will be reduced in size.”

Describing the move as “sad news”, she added: “When previously asked about redundancies, I have said that it was too soon to make that decision. Today, I must confirm that we are reducing the size of our Atlantis workforce.

“For Atlantis, whose sole purpose is centred around people serving people, this is incredibly difficult to confront.... Let me start with how we arrived at this decision. We are collectively living through the worst pandemic of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, global travel came to a standstill.

“Our business suffered significant losses and, in response, we drastically cut costs that touched nearly every corner of Atlantis. While these actions were necessary, it became clear that we had to go further when faced with two hard truths,” Ms Oswell continued.

“We don’t know exactly when travel will return to normal business levels [and] when travel does return it will be be very different for everyone. While we expect Atlantis to fully recover - and business volumes continue to increase since re-opening, the significant changes we will undergo are not temporary or short-lived. 

“Because of this we need to make fundamental shifts by reducing the size of our workforce around a more business-focused strategy.” All 700 staff members affected received a phone call and e-mail informing them of their termination, with Ms Oswell adding: “Every detail to help provide a smooth transition for parting colleagues has been thoughtfully planned and considered.”

However, an Atlantis spokesperson in response to Tribune Business inquiries confirmed that the payment of due severance, together with associated benefits such as accrued vacation, will be spread out over three monthly instalments that will be made in May, June and July this year.

And well-placed sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, disclosed that Atlantis had initially mulling greater cuts than the 700 it eventually settled upon. One contact said the figure of 775 had been discussed before it was whittled down to yesterday’s number, although Mr Woods speculated that the extra 75 could be managerial employees who are also being terminated.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, disclosed to Tribune Business yesterday that the Government had been prodding Atlantis for some time to follow other resorts in resolving the fate of its furloughed workers - either by recalling them or terminating their services and paying due severance.

Describing the terminations as “upsetting” and “saddening”, he added that the Minnis administration had to balance its desire that furloughed employees not be left in limbo forever with the Paradise Island mega resort’s cash flow challenges - something that is likely to have driven the redundancy payments by instalment.

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Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar. Photo: Donavan McIntosh

Acknowledging that Atlantis’ move also reflects the realities of tourism’s slow COVID-19 recovery, Mr D’Aguilar said: “This move by Atlantis is of course upsetting in the sense that it’s crystallising what has really happened on the ground. A number of Atlantis employees have clearly been furloughed because of the pandemic and also the reduction in the number of visitors.

“The Government has been encouraging Atlantis to bring some finality to the situation of furloughed staff, and to make a determination as to whether it will bring those persons back or not.”

Mr D’Aguilar effectively described the terminations as a double-edged sword, or bittersweet development, in that they will grant furloughed Atlantis workers - who over the past 15 months have been demanding severance packages as a means to ease their financial hardship and enable them to move on - their wish.

However, for some this could result in just short-term gain due to the difficulties associated with finding alternative jobs in the COVID-depressed economy. “The staff have been crying for some finality,” Mr D’Aguilar added. “A number have been wanting to get the severance monies owed to them and move on to the next stage in their lives.

“When I was campaigning in Freetown, an Atlantis manager made the point to me that he hated this furloughed status, did not want to go back, and wanted to be terminated and severed to move on to the next stage in his life. I’m glad for him that the matter has been resolved. There was a feeling that Atlantis was cherry picking who it severed and who it furloughed.”

Mr D’Aguilar said the Government had been “mindful” and “sensitive” to Atlantis’ cash flow issues, due to the devastating impact COVID-19 lockdowns, border closures and the associated reduction in visitors have had on its finances, and the difficulties this has created for financing severance payments.

“Every tourism concern trying to operate in this pandemic has been losing oodles of money,” he added, pointing out that Atlantis was at a disadvantage compared to the likes of its younger mega resort rival, Baha Mar, in that it had a much older workforce that required greater severance payments.

“I’m saddened so many people had to be terminated, but most of the people who have been furloughed have received their funding and can move on to the next stage in the lives.”

Mr Woods, meanwhile, said Atlantis’ move further highlights “the devastating, even debilitating, blow” that the pandemic has dealt the Bahamian tourism and resort industry. He added that the resort’s move came as no surprise as it was “only a matter of time” before “went down the same road” as other properties in right-sizing its workforce.

“We were saying this was only a matter of time,” he told Tribune Business. “All the other hotels have done this, and it would have been a surprise had Atlantis not gone down this road because of its size.

“In the back of our minds we were thinking 2008, when 800 were released, and thought it would be worse than that. The blow was not as bad as we thought it would be if you match it to that, even though it’s bad. It is a big blow, but once you put it into context.......

Mr Woods added that the hotel union was likely to have lost at least 1,000 members, as a conservative estimate, due to COVID-related terminations at multiple resorts, with three properties where it was represented - the Melia Nassau Beach, the Lyford Cay Club, and San Salvador’s Club Med - having all closed for a significant period of time due to the pandemic.

Mr Woods suggested that as many as 10,000 resort industry workers, including both union and non-union, had been impacted by terminations and furloughs as a result of the pandemic. “The hospitality industry as a whole has suffered a devastating blow, even debilitating I’d call it, to some degree,” he added.

Comments

bogart 3 years, 2 months ago

Sad, again and again. Consequences of educated alternating govts of the people putting all the eggs (foreign imported) into one basket. Failure of diversification. Sad when to go into the Grocery store and spending money to buy food products coming from other countries.

bogart 3 years, 2 months ago

...foreign carrots in cans, bags, ochra in cans, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, puree tomatoes in cans, foreign veggies, foreign frozen fish, shrimp, bacon....this being going on for decades. Going to the political rallys an would be politicians yelling Bahamian first from one side of da mout and handing out foreign made sewn up tee shirts, plate of foreign import chivken wings with macaroni seasoned up wid foreign salt and good dose of foreign musicians music and playing. Etcetc.

Proguing 3 years, 2 months ago

One of the problems with farming in this country is that there is too much theft. And when a farmer defends his property he is arrested, as with the current case of Farmer Jones. His house and car were also torched by the family of the thief and his farm was looted. You can help by signing the below petition:

https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/sup…

realitycheck242 3 years, 2 months ago

No wonder the Cancer rates in this country keeps rising with all the preservatives, chemicals, additives and foreign substances being added to al the foreign food thats imported. Some products have labels clearly marked "For export only". Our politicians only talk diversification to get elected. The terminated employees of Atlantis should be creative find a way to start small businesses with the skills learned while employed.

hnhanna 3 years, 2 months ago

I notice just about everyone running their juicy mouths but they have no solutions to the problems.

ThisIsOurs 3 years, 2 months ago

Ive been talking about the approach for a while now. Skills retraining and digitization. Before COVID and before Dorian.

Now I see people today running around today talking about digitization. The most weird thing is the people leading the charge are the same ones who years ago told you that Xxx digitization idea, who's going to use it? Now they in charge as the experts. Its a wonder to behold. Two years ago Kwasi was happy bahamians could "install" software while the white foreign men coded, now he's the digitization minister. These things have to be about putting people in place to pass contracts through the system and doas theyre told, they honestly cant be about results

ThisIsOurs 3 years, 2 months ago

"not as bad a blow as we thought it would be"

shortsighted. This is judt the beginning. Someone ince told me about the behind thd scenes planning fir staff cuts. They have plans A B and C already mapped out. Do we have any visionaries in leadership anywhere?

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