Old Bahama Bay Resort To Lay Off More Staff

Old Bahama Bay hotel in West End, Grand Bahama, will lay off 85 staff members tomorrow, The Nassau Guardian can confirm.

It is unclear how many workers will remain after the cuts.

The layoffs will come two weeks after The Guardian revealed that they were looming, and after West End and Bimini MP Obie Wilchcombe appealed to the government to intervene to save the jobs.

Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said yesterday that Old Bahama Bay — which is owned by the Ginn company — formally advised him of the job cuts.

"Old Bahama Bay in West End advised us that because of a low occupancy at 10 percent for a prolonged period of time they were forced to lay off 85 of their workers," Foulkes said.

"The Ginn development side will engage an additional 35 workers, so the net result would be a reduction of 50."

He said the 35 new workers will be employed in the construction field.

The minister added, "They do not intend to close the hotel as was rumored and they are moving full steam ahead with the Ginn development. They advised me that they do not intend to change ownership of the hotel."

Wilchcombe said Al Jones, an executive at Old Bahama Bay, called him on Tuesday to formally inform him of the pending layoffs.

"That is a significant [number] of employees. That is a significant [number] of Bahamians who are now on the unemployment line, adding to the list, which is very sad because both ministers — the minister of tourism and the minister of labor — actually shunned what I was trying to say and dismissed it," the MP said.

"We haven't heard from them in the two weeks post my statement to [The Nassau Guardian] and now the people are going to walk."

Wilchcombe said Ginn has committed to ensuring that the employees receive the severance packages that they are legally owed. He said Jones advised that the property will continue to cater to its marina crowd.

"I asked whether they are prepared to [rehire] if circumstances change and they confirmed," he said. "I thought the government ought to have been making the intervention. I thought the government ought to have been telling the Bahamian people what was going to happen. The government ought to have been ensuring that the [workers'] best interests were being served."

Earlier this month Wilchcombe had said, "The government must meet with Ginn and explore all possible avenues to stave off what could be even more devastating to the economy of West End than the impact of Hurricane Frances when it hit West End in 2004...We must not wait; we must act with haste. The government has at its disposal a range of options from the deferment of tax considerations to an extension of the same, to ensure that more Bahamians are not forced to tow the unemployment line."

At the time, Minister of Tourism Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace said the last he had heard about Old Bahama Bay is that "they were doing a little better than forecast."

"Nowadays that's the best anyone can say," he said.

Yesterday, Foulkes acknowledged that the layoffs will add to an already bad situation on Grand Bahama.

"As you know, there have been layoffs from several businesses in Grand Bahama," he told The Nassau Guardian. "We are doing all that we can as a government to cushion and to soften the blow to families, not only in Grand Bahama, but throughout the country through the various initiatives...that we have put in place. We are hopeful that things will turn around and that our economy will get better. The question is when that will happen."

Grand Bahama's economy was in the dumps long before the global economic crisis took hold in the second half of 2008.

The island suffered tremendously from back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. The closure of the Royal Oasis Resort and the trickle of visitors in tourist centers are signs of the continued depressed times being experienced on the island.

Grand Bahama's unemployment rate stood at 14.6 percent in February 2009, up from 9 percent in May last year, the highest numbers recorded in 15 years, according to the Department of Statistics.

In an interview with The Guardian on Sunday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he expects more layoffs in the hotel sector before the situation stabilizes.

Source: The Nassau Guardian