Almost 200 persons have registered for unemployment benefits under the Department of Labour’s Unemployed Benefit System (UBS) since Hurricane Dorian left Grand Bahama business sector nearly crippled, said Assistant Director of Labour for Grand Bahama, Janet Russell.
With that figure expected to increase, Russell is admonishing business owners to adhere to the policy’s law.
During an interview with this daily September 19, Russell explained how workers may securing assistance through the UBS. “When you come in, we search our database to see if you’ve registered with us already. If you haven’t, we put you into our system, then we register you and you are given a card to visit us on a monthly basis, showing that you are seeking the benefit.
“We then stamp your card, so you can take it to National Insurance where they begin the process for you to receive the unemployment benefit.”
She noted that the unemployment benefit is for persons who have made up to a year’s contribution in National Insurance. “Once they have done that and later become unemployed, they are qualified for unemployment benefits.
“Some companies might be aware that we give them a window of three months to have persons not working and after three months they have to make a decision on whether or not they are going to keep them on if not, they will have to provide workers with a severance package.
“After three months of unemployment or whatever the reason after the storm, they (employers) will have to make a decision on either they are going to keep the employees working or if they are going to give them a severance package.
“If you are not going to keep them on, you have to give them a package,” she reiterated.
Russell noted that should employers not comply to the labour law, the employee has a right to file a dispute with the Labour Department. “We, in turn, would bring everyone around the table and go through the concerns regarding the package advising both sides of their rights.
“The employees are entitled to severance packages after being on a job for a year, even six months you are entitled to a severance of some sort. If the employer is not willing to pay or in this case (business effected as a result of Hurricane Dorian), they may say they don’t have the funds to pay, then we try to come to some amicable agreement. Meaning, the employer can say he or she can’t pay all and is the employee willing to be paid on a piece, piece basis.
“However, if the employer still decides not to pay, then the next course will be to go to the tribunal,” Russell explained.
Commending her staff, who continue to function at full capacity despite relocating to a temporary site in the C. A. Smith Complex after their office was compromised; however, Russell added they are anxious to be back at their office.
“As the public is aware, we have been compromised with regards to electricity in our building, so we are here in the Complex. I really can’t say how long we will be in the complex, because we have to wait on the power company to come in and do the assessment on our building.
“The downstairs portion of the building was flooded; therefore, it is going to require electricians to come in and examine the space to determine if we need to have the place rewired. But until that happens, we will not be able to receive power,” said Russell.
“Right now, we are on a shift schedule. Our hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and then from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. We will be available until 5:00 p.m. every day to accommodate the public and any other services that is required.
“So, we urge the public that if there are those who have been affected by the hurricane, come visit us here at the Complex and be registered to receive the unemployment benefit.
“National Insurance is working in conjunction with us. We are set up next door to them, so the process would be like a one stop shop for individuals.
“We do have conciliation officers in place to answer questions related to the Labour Laws,” she added.
“Hopefully, everything can be up and running shortly, so we can move back to our office space and resume working from there.”
Noting that a number of her staff members were directly affected by Hurricane Dorian wide spread devastation throughout the island, Russell said, it an emotional time for the entire department.
“About four of them had terrible flooding. Some of them don’t even have clothing to wear. It is very emotional for me, when I see my staff going through that.
“There is one (employee) right now that needs special consideration to remain at home, try regroup and get themselves together. Having them come out here and work a shift system is really disheartening to me, especially for persons who were affected. So, if I can get special provisions for her to remain home and get herself sorted out, that would be greatly appreciated,” said Russell.
“I plan to work with my staff and with others who have been affected not to apply too much pressure for them to actually be here. And if they can’t, then that is understandable.
“The Labour Department is very lenient and understanding when it comes to employees. We are an employer as well. It is the same as we would want the business places to treat their employees, we too will have to follow suit in that regard,” said the assistant director.