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Mass confusion over unemployment benefit

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

There is mass confusion in the government over the extension of the 13-week unemployment benefit. As a result, some companies have begun laying off employees at the end of the 13-week period.

The plan was to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 90 days, eliminating the need for employers - who are feeling the financial pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic - to terminate employees after the initial 13-week period ended.

The law only allows employers to lay off their employees for 90 days. After that, they must return to work or be terminated.

Based on the recent extension of the Emergency Powers until the end of July, the layoff period now ends on August 31. However, the law itself was not changed to allow companies to extend the lay-off period beyond 13 weeks.

The National Tripartite Council made recommendations to the government to amend the law to address these issues but the government chose to use the Emergency Powers Order to facilitate these instead.

We all know how horribly that went when the government planned to extend the order but the Attorney General’s Office dropped the ball, forcing the Governor General to sign a new state of emergency proclamation.

Now, as companies axe employees, trade union leaders are scratching their heads in confusion. National Insurance Minister Brensil Rolle and Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes also seem lost and at odds over the announced extension.

Labour leaders requested that the Office of the Attorney General clarify the extension for the benefit of employers, who are said to be very concerned about this issue. However, they were informed there is no need to put it in writing as the latest Emergency Order automatically extends the lay-off period by 30 days.

Did the government clearly articulate this to Baha Mar, which began laying off hundreds of employees or Cable Bahamas which made 87 workers redundant last week or the Grand Lucayan Resort, which fired over 100 line staff and managers last month?

On Monday, The National Insurance Board will launch a new online portal for eligible individuals to register for the Government-Funded Unemployment Benefit Extension Programme.

According to NIB, persons who were unemployed due to the COVID-19 shutdown between March 23 – June 30 and continue to be unemployed, are eligible for the extension program if they fall under one of four categories.

Eligible persons will receive $150 per week for a maximum of 13 weeks during periods of unemployment, according to NIB’s statement.

However, it turns out that statement is wrong.

As it turns out, the $150 is only for the Unemployment Assistance Scheme and the Unemployment Benefit Program will be 50% of the insurable wage.

Insiders say the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

The Labour and National Insurance Ministers (also known as Lost and More Lost) met in an attempt to get on the same page on this matter and are expected to clarify the government’s position on the unemployment benefit extension on Monday.

Let us pray for the sake of those laid off workers that the government figures it out, and soon.

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