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Joblessness could hit 30%

The Nassau Guardian April 23, 2020

Rachel Knowles

Unemployment in The Bahamas could reach 30 percent, Acting Director of Labour John Pinder predicted yesterday.

Pinder said that while it would be ideal for the government to help businesses keep their employees on, the government also needs to ensure it has revenue.

“I expect the unemployment rate to jump a bit high because I believe some small businesses that may not be able to sustain themselves will have to lay some people off. But, I hope it doesn’t go over 30 percent,” he said.

“I know it’s going to be in the high 20s and maybe even as high as 30 percent.

“But, I appreciate the fact that there are some employers who are really taking a hit and still trying to keep Bahamians employed because they understand the importance of this whole thing.

“I hope more employers will do so. And maybe the government could offer them some concessions moving forward. But, then the government is in a catch-22 because they need the revenue badly. We’re going to be in plenty of debt as a country by the time this is finished.”

Pinder said many people are not yet considered unemployed because they were temporarily laid off.

“Fortunately, for a number of major employers, they are just laying people off,” he said.

“They aren’t making them unemployed. They haven’t made them redundant.

“But, there is a concern coming from major employers as it relates to a clause in the Employment Act that gives them a 90-day window that they rehire or give them severance pay.

“I believe it will cause the government to make some amendments to that just for right now to extend the layoff period because 90 days is probably too short for what we’re going through right now.

“[It] may have to be extended by 12 months because we believe that by October, this thing should start to rebound itself, but there’s no guarantee it will.”

Shortly after The Bahamas recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus last month, the government moved quickly to slow the spread of the virus.

A state of emergency was declared, non-essential businesses were ordered closed, a curfew was imposed and social distancing measures were implemented.

As a result, thousands of Bahamians in the tourism sector were laid off almost overnight. Workers in other sectors of the economy were also sent home.

The Bahamas has 70 confirmed cases of the virus and nine deaths.

Pinder said he is hopeful that the Family Islands with no cases could be the first to rebound with regards to the tourism industry.

He suggested that perhaps visitors could return to those islands, provided that they are screened for COVID-19, to ensure they don’t bring the virus to the vulnerable islands.

“Exuma, Eleuthera, Cat Island and those islands that have no cases of coronavirus, they are in such a good strategic position right now,” he said.

“[W]henever this is all said and done, they could be the first set of islands to start to benefit. But, it’s important for them to be ready. They need to be ready, maybe do some expansions where they can, make sure the rooms are properly presented and start to do their advertisement early before this thing is all said and done.”

Pinder added, “It may be an inconvenience for a while, because maybe if a plane lands, you may have to hold people for an hour or two to do proper screening. But, we’ve got to do something.”

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